Tuesday, April 23, 2024

Seniors on the See-saw

We’ve often experienced, as we age, how two completely opposing thoughts or emotions or behaviours can come into play right at the same moment. Leaving us feeling a tad confused, even sheepish at times. And if someone stands over your head asking you to stop vacillating (or oscillating like a table fan), perhaps we can say this to them and ourselves: ‘I have lived a long life with many experiences, and yet many things are completely new to me in this fast-moving world. So I give myself the space and permission to have conflicting feelings and reactions. I remain in learning-mode.’ It is as simple as that! Grant yourself that visa, the licence, to go grey, even internally, and not be all black or white!

What are these contrasting experiences that we contend with every day, as Seniors?

  1. Being Highly Visible VS Highly Invisible at the same time. For instance, you may encounter someone turning to you for affection or advise, and in this way acknowledging that you have been around a while and may have a good supply of both. On that very same day, you may feel quite invisible, as the world rushes past you or looks through you or forgets to attend to your query or request. 
  2. Inhibition VS Spontaneity. Crossing the age of 60 at times makes you self-conscious about what you can and cannot wear, eat, say, do, desire. And yet, on some fronts, many of us experience a delicious freeing from those shoulds and shouldn’ts, allowing us to shrug off years of self-imposed rules and regulations. And never mind if the world around you is a bit taken aback at your new-found ‘bindaas’-ness! 

(A word of caution, though. ‘Disinhibition’ is the other extreme, a condition in which some of the elderly develop impulsive behaviours, with no restraints on what they speak or do, poor risk-assessment and potentially unsocial or antisocial actions.) Sometimes it helps to get a sense of what inhibitions you can let go and what you need to keep in place, by listening to well-wishers around you, or whatever age. 

3. Abililty to Listen VS Selective Hearing. As a senior, you can have an inner quietness that comes with age, allowing you to listen in a discerning non-interrupting way. And yet, as many of us experience with ourselves and other seniors, we can tune off and simply not allow some things to enter, because that too is part of ageing. Perhaps an area to work on, with help and feedback from the right quarters. 

4. Finding Young People Annoying VS Being Impressed With Them. Yes, and at one and the same moment, sometimes! They can come across as brash, unthinking, disrespectful, self-absorbed. But their sheer fearlessness, risk-taking and easy warmth and optimism is the perfect antidote. They can be the darrd and also the dawwa to us. 

5. Learning VS Unlearning. While we are learning new things, from technology to finance to how to talk to younger people, we are equally required to unlearn some of our old outmoded attitudes, assumptions, language usage, prejudices and theories. The rules of engagement with the outer world are changing, and learning the new ways is as important as unlearning the old ones. 

6. Aunty/Uncle VS Grandma/pa. Just as you were beginning to settle down to being called Aunty by all, the next stage is upon you: Now you are Dadaji, Paati, Ajji, Ajoba, Gramps, and a whole lot of other words that signify your advancing years. And perhaps you are also looking after your own elderly, people in their 80s and 90s. So on one day itself, you are expected to be an elder as well as a care-giver child to someone.

7. Politeness VS Impoliteness. On a daily basis, you will encounter extreme politeness and consideration on account of your years somewhere, perhaps at the bank or at a function or in a shop or even in traffic. And also quite the opposite. At the next moment, someone will whizz past you from the wrong side, and shout out a rude Oy Mhatarayyy (Hey Oldie!) to you as if you should not be on the road at all, obstructing his or her acrobatic feats on a two-wheeler. 

8. Offering uncalled for advice VS Holding your tongue. This is a dilemma we all encounter on a daily basis. At times you can clearly see that you can save someone a lot of trouble by giving them a useful suggestion or a note of caution. And yet, we all know (and are learning) that it is equally important to zip it up and not jump in with your ‘take’ every time. Perhaps the best approach can be waiting to be asked, or offering advice tentatively, in the least know-it-all way possible! 

9. Clutter VS De-clutter. Another fine balance to be achieved – how much to hang on to and how much to simply let go, as we age. While we have to take those decisions, discernment rather than all-or-nothing solutions is the way to go – whether it is emotional baggage or actual things. There is no one-size-fits all plan here, but it probably makes sense to take a good hard look at your relationships and your possessions and keep what gives you joy and let go what you have carried along but need to respectfully (and yet ruthlessly) give away.

10. Nostalgia VS The Present. While it is easy to hark back to (and harp on) our ‘good old days’ which we look upon with much wistful head-wagging and tongue-clucking when we compare them to ‘today’, we do have to inhabit the Present and do a half-decent job of it. Maybe a daily or weekly exercise of noticing, even noting, what three things in current times are way better than how it was ‘back then’ would help us to become aware and grateful for the many advances and reforms that we have lived to see and enjoy today. Nostalgia is beautiful, but the here-and-now beckons too. 

11. Wonderment VS Apathy. On one and the same day, you could feel cynical, seen-it-all, and uninterested in most things. And on that very day or moments later, something can fill you with wonder and renewed respect for the world around you! It’s important to acknowledge both, allowing for apathy, but harnessing and encouraging that moment of wonderment too. Both states tend to bloom and grow, so it’s important to keep a small check on apathy and fuel that sense of wonderment when possible. 

12. Half Empty VS Half Full. As we encounter many little intimations of our mortality – in the form of mounting medical bills, aches and pains, the passing away of others our age – all of us look fearfully or philosophically at the approaching end. And here too, it is perfectly understandable that we may find ourselves at times wanting to exit, having had enough at one moment; and yet being able to savour and be grateful for every living moment too, on some days. Both are deeply valid states of being and let nobody tell us otherwise! 


Whichever part of the world we find ourselves in, whether life has gone according to original plans or not, whenever we are called upon to define and redefine ourselves, balance and discernment (‘vivek buddhi’ as it is called) is the ageing person’s precious-most asset. 


Gouri Dange
Gouri Dange is a writer and family counsellor with eight published books and long-running columns in national publications.

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