It was William Shakespeare who famously wrote about the seven ages of man. “All the world’s a stage,” he proclaimed, “And all the men and women merely players.” To paraphrase the bard, we all start off as mewling infants, go on to become grubby schoolchildren, play lusty lovers, then become soldiers or men (and women) of business, until finally we descend into our second childhood “sans teeth, sans eyes, sans taste, sans everything”.
I know, depressing stuff, isn’t it? The thought that our best years will inevitably slip away from us; that life will eventually come full circle and we will end up as the mewling, helpless, dribbling creatures that we started off as (except that now instead of being petted and cosseted by our proud parents, we will be nursed by our resentful children and grandchildren).
Honestly, it doesn’t bear thinking about. And yet, that is the manifest destiny of each one of us, however much we try to hide from it. All of us are pre-ordained to recreate the seven stages of man (unless we are unfortunate enough to be struck down in our prime). We will have our chance to enjoy the carefree days of our childhood, where we don’t have to worry about anything other than the annual exams and a bit of schoolyard bullying. We will all have a crack at being teenagers, being ruled by our hormones and tormented by the occasional zit that will crop up at the worst possible time. We will have our youth, when we set out to conquer the world, with that fresh optimism and energy that only the very young possess. We will go on to marry, raise families, see them grow up, rejoice in their successes even as we mourn the loss of our own youth.
Ah, there’s the rub right there, isn’t it? The loss of our youth. The only age that we seem to treasure these days is that time when our adult life is just unfurling in front of us, alive with possibilities and the promise of a better future. When our skin glows, our figures stay in shape with everything pointing in the right direction without any real effort on our part, and we have all our teeth. When we can read newspapers and menus without having to slip on a pair of glasses. When we can party late into the night and still make it to work early next day, all bright-eyed and bushy-tailed. When we have the belief that we can take on the world and win.
And such is our celebration of this period of our lives that we seem to have lost the ability to appreciate the other six stages as we focus all our attention on recapturing the one in which we were at our physical and mental prime. Think about it. We were all blissfully happy as babies; oblivious to the cares of the world as children; our every need anticipated; our every need fulfilled. Would we like to be transported back to the safe, secure world in which we believed that our parents could keep us from all harm? Of course we would.
But does that make us revert to pigtails and bloomers and run out into the playground, to see just how high we can make that swing really go? Of course not; we know that would make us seem ridiculous. As rational adults we recognise that clinging on to our childhood is just not a feasible enterprise. So, how long do you think it’s going to be before we realise that trying to cling on to our youth is rendering us just as ridiculous?
Well, I wouldn’t hold my breath, if I were you. Wherever I look around me, in my world of 30- and 40-somethings, I see a manic desire to slow down time, to hold back the years, to somehow freeze frame so that we always appear the way we want to: With the bloom of early youth just segueing into the wisdom and serenity of early middle age.
Of course, we don’t call it that. Middle age? Perish the thought. We are in what we like to call our late youth, where 40 is the new 30 and everyone shies away from the prospect of turning 50 (or at the very least, admitting to it).
So, instead of embracing the changes that nature bestows upon us as we move into another stage of our lives, we try and hold back its ravages with every weapon at our command. We colour our hair; we starve ourselves back into pre-pubescent shape; we exercise maniacally so that we have the toned bodies of the very young; we slather on the anti-ageing creams, the anti-cellulite potions and the under-eye serums; we Botox away the wrinkles that might give away just how far we have journeyed through life; we inject fillers to recreate the plump faces of our youth; and we dress as hip as we can possibly can. And yet, you know what? We don’t really look young. We just look as if we are trying very hard (and oh yes, we are). So, it is really worth it in the end? Should we keep up the savage resistance against the worst depredations of nature? Or is it time to say it out loud: We are middle-aged and proud?
Follow Seema on Twitter at twitter.com/seemagoswami
From HT Brunch, June 10
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