Age, that old chestnut, has been coming up a lot lately, more than it really should. I know why I’m thinking about it: today one of the best gifts I’ve ever received celebrates a big birthday and I am still considering that with a mix of joy (for the fact that he is, and is in my life, and we have had so many good years already), disbelief (how can he be that old? how can I be with someone that old?) and a bit of relief (so this is what 60 looks like! not so bad, really!).
It is really only as the years – I almost said creep, but they don’t – zip along that one realises that old, or just older, doesn’t look the same from the inside as it does from the outside. I was into my forties before it dawned on me that the elderly people I encounter probably all feel about the same age as me. Or younger. And while I see them as they are now, they most likely see themselves in a completely different skin – literally.
Last week a colleague told me she rarely reveals her age, and went on to tell me about Dr Mario Martinez, his book Mind Body Code, and his study on human ageing.
Dr Martinez is a clinical neuropsychologist who initiated the idea of biocognitive science, which combines psychoneuroimmunology (say that one quickly) – how thoughts and emotions affect the immune system – and anthropology, two disciplines which weren’t communicating at all.
After studying a group of centenarians who were a mix of gender and socioeconomic status, he concluded that about 35% of longevity is genetic, the rest is cultural. Consciousness and our personal and communal perceptions make a physical difference in our lives. Between 65-85, he says we are in our prime neuropsychologically, with well developed intellect, emotional maturity, and a tremendous knowledge base, but traditionally this is when we are boxed away. Unfortunately our bodies respond to that. Our brains are “made to have meaning and to have discovery.”
Increasing the retirement age, rather than being negative – ‘the government is doing us out of a couple of years of pension’ – is actually positive. We are well able to work for longer than people were years ago. Dr Martinez says, “Our culture puts people away at 65 [okay, now 67 and rising in Ireland], and people die within about six years, going off somewhere in Florida to watch sunsets. We need more meaning.” He goes on to explain that we need to do things with joy, experiencing the moment. It also really helps to have some spiritual beliefs, a sense of something greater than you, the understanding that you are not the centre of the universe.
Like my colleague, he never reveals his age because of how he will then be perceived and treated, which in turn will influence his own attitude toward himself and his physical health. By telling someone your age, people start judging you on it. A statement like “You look good for 75!” is a bit of an underhanded compliment, suggesting that perhaps you really shouldn’t be looking good at seventy five.
Interestingly, according to Dr Martinez, the people who look young are the ones who don’t know when middle age is; the centenarians claimed you don’t know when middle age is until you are dead!
But why is middle age even a thing? What can be the point of it other than pigeon-holing someone? In my head, middle aged sounds frumpy, out of touch, stuck. And why would I want to think of myself in a phase that is all that? You think it, you feel it: in your head, in your bones, in your soul.
I want to take this further though: why should we hide our age because of the detrimental affect it will have on our health and wellbeing?
Can we put aside our preconceived notions of what is old and what old does and doesn’t do, and just live?
Can we recognise the elderly as just like us, with more experience?
Can we encourage each other to pursue joy, stay connected, and have purpose?
And so I finish with this: Happy birthday to the guy who didn’t ever get when middle age is!
Just don’t say he’s looking good ‘for his age’, and I will stop my comments about going to confession because it just feels wrong to be sleeping with someone who is sixty. Expect that you’ll see him for the next 25 years or more, creating and playing and fixing and making his kids’ eyes roll to heaven.
If you want to listen to an interview with Mario Martinez, click here.
2 thoughts on “Who’s Counting?”
Beautifully written. Age is a number… all relative. I see it in my work on every trip. People always break themselves into the categories of “embracing life” or “cautiously proceeding.” I find more and more it has everything to do with perspective and very little to do with age.
Happy Birthday MARTIN!
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Thanks Coty! I bet you see it firsthand all the time! Hope we get to embrace life with you again sometime!