ON REFLECTION: Life! What a gift!
FOR PERHAPS the first time in my life I am acutely aware that I could be at the weakest and most vulnerable point, physically, of my life. And most men in Barbados who are around my age, 48, are more than likely feeling the same way.
The loss of schoolmates, several acquaintances, a number of Barbadian celebrities including the late Prime Minister, a few workmates in recent years, and one relative who also happened to be a journalist – Keith Toppin who worked as a sub-editor at the Advocate and Nation newspapers years ago. What do these and I have in common?
Like me, they were in their late 40s: a time when, apparently, most Barbadian men either show symptoms of serious sicknesses or diseases, or sometimes inexplicably die. And while I have no medical proof, except the published fact among medical authorities that chronic non-communicable (lifestyle) diseases manifest themselves in people around my age, I’m beginning to fear that a large segment of the male Barbadian population does not make it past 50.
And if they do make it to age 60 with all their physical and mental faculties intact, then they are truly blessed!
In fact the biblically allotted age of three score and ten seems almost like a magic number to me now, since it’s still a long way off and at the same time many people I know or read out in the obituaries are my age or thereabouts; some younger.
These thoughts started whirling around in my brain nearly a decade ago, causing me at one point to become so cynical about “good” health and the data showing “people are now living longer” that I used to parody a well-known saying by telling people that “death begins at 40”. I saw nothing new or expectant from reaching 40 except to start preparing for the onset of major aches and pains which, thankfully, I’ve so far been able to avoid.
I have also watched with absolute cynicism not only the physical effects of ageing but also the accepted general fallouts.
For example, leaders who are middle-aged or older – whether they are heading secular organisations or hold senior positions in churches or workplaces
– will soon realize that, no matter how competent they are or how sterling their contribution over the years, they will have to take a back seat to younger people with fresher ideas and new vision.
Older professionals will also see younger people enter the workforce and become their superiors, simply because the world is changing, knowledge is increasing, and younger people are the source of more dynamic leadership.
Another painful fallout is that the significance of many people’s contributions will fade as time rolls on, before and after they die. In the ever-changing work environment, old employees will seem like walking monuments in the eyes of their younger counterparts and, in personal matters, opponents/enemies will probably wish you dead long before you actually die.
That is life, especially as one reaches middle-age and sees it, not with rose-tinted shades, but with the cold reality that death is nearer than in one’s youth when every day was a “party”.
These, I fear, are among the vestiges of ageing and death, and as I gradually receive less Christmas gifts while I get older – I was content with about four while my children counted no less than 60-odd presents among them – I’m also realizing that the best gift that I can receive every Christmas morning is life.
And my presents haven’t necessarily lessened because of having fewer friends – on the contrary – but because the young people are more than likely to receive presents from us their parents, aunts, uncles and so on.
As I watch people in my age group, especially men, pass with each passing year, material gifts at Christmas pale in comparison to being given a clean bill of health after an annual medical check-up. The saying that “health is wealth” rings with loud veracity as I watch numerous centenarians being celebrated with visits by the Governor General, and as I see oldtimers going on cruises or strolling arm-in-arm in Queen’s Park on Christmas morning; while youthful-looking, supposedly stronger men are falling between ages 46 and 53.
And while I’m joyful at the doctor’s good report and the lack of any ailments, I worry. Yes, I wonder whether I will live to see my children grow to be men and women. Will I attend their weddings? Will I see or hold their children?
If I live to retire, will I have someone at my side to share the “golden” years with? And if I have no one, will I be wise enough to still give thanks for the gift of life?
And even if I am fortunate to be respected or loved in my mature years and at my death, who will remember me 20 years from now as other issues and other people become more relevant?
So what should all this teach me or anyone in my age group? One thing I ponder is the fact that many senior citizens who are way older than I am continue to live and behave the same as they probably did for many years.
I see in some older folk greed and an insatiable quest for money; in others there’s no great appreciation for their children or relatives; some mature people still judge others by appearances or school/family alliances and not by getting to know them; some can still look another individual in the eye and refuse to utter or respond to a greeting; and spiritual/religious matters are treated by some people my age as minor elements or ignored altogether.
Such things should make me ponder upon the Proverbs of Solomon but even then, my own lack of wisdom betrays me.
All I can do then is serve the one I perceive to be God; savour the happy moments and learn from the sad ones; cherish family and loved ones; and keep my mind free of hatred and bitterness, which isn’t always easy, but life has a way of balancing things so that people, including me, reap the just reward for what they do – good or ill.
This is life.