Monday, January 05, 2015

Of age

Once I read a book with essays, in which the authors had been asked to write pieces with the same titles as the chapters in Montaigne’s famous Essays. However, they were free to develop the themes as they liked. I could do the same here in my blogs and it would solve my weekly problem what to write about. I would have stuff for more than two years. I’ll not do that systematically but now in my first blog of a new year I think it will not be inappropriate to write about age, which is the theme of Montaigne’s last essay in his first book, titled “Of age”. For isn’t it so that in some cultures people say that they have become one year older at New Year’s Day, and not on their birthday, as is customary in western countries, for instance?
Some people say that age is just a number. Although I think that there is much truth in it, I think also that it is not true. Age develops always and continuously in one direction. It is not possible to move backwards and become younger, despite what all advertisements on beauty products tell. Biologically there is a maximum length of life, which is about 115 years, and from the time perspective life is a steady count-down with the possibility that the count-down will come to an end already before this maximum has been reached. Actually, that’s what usually happens and nobody knows beforehand exactly when the end will be.
On the other hand, already the just mentioned fact that age is not counted everywhere in the world in the same way puts its absolute value into perspective. Even more, sometimes it appears to run in the wrong direction. At a certain age a person’s physical capacities gradually go down as every older sportsman knows. The process becomes clear when you are about 35-40 years old. And it is so that my average speed of my enduance runs has decreased with a third since then. Nevertheless, when I am riding on my race bike my speed has stayed quite stable through the years, and, to my surprise, it has a bit increased again during the past two-three years, despite my advanced age, and these years are “bikewise” among my best years ever. Does it mean that I am becoming younger again? But how then does this relate to my decreasing speed when I am running? This unequal development can certainly be explained, but it shows that there is also a grain of truth in the saying that age is just a number. Apparently age is not a one-dimensional phenomenon.
We see also a kind of uneven development when we compare our physical and mental capacities. Despite my personal experiences, generally our physical capacities follow a certain pattern of growth during the first 30 years or so and then a gradual decay sets in when you have become 35 years old. Individually there are big differences, also depending on a person’s physical history, but this is the common physical pattern of a human life. I don’t know whether there is such a pattern of our mental development, but what is clear is that a person’s physical and mental development seldom go together. Often you hear people of, say, 60 years old express the feeling that mentally they feel as if they were 20 years old. Even if it is not true that they are mentally that young – and I think that it isn’t true, although I have the same feeling –it shows that our mental age is not the same as our physical age. Have you ever heard a sexagenarian saying that he or she feels physically the same as when s/he was 20 years old? A person of that age knows that every substantially younger person will beat him by a mile, or what way we compare them. And many people who can hardly walk anymore and are physically afflicted with age are still young in spirit.
The upshot is that the assertion that age is just a number is not true. The higher the age the older a person is. Nevertheless it is also not true that age is merely a number. There are too many phenomena that refute it. And Montaigne? He wrote most of his essay on the question that in his days most people didn’t die of old age but by accidents and illnesses and that mental and social life had not been adapted to this fact. Much has changed since then. What Montaigne didn’t foresee and couldn’t foresee so what he didn’t discuss is that being young and staying young has become a cult. Keeping fit and looking well have become big business these days. Does it make sense from the perspective of aging?
Happy New Year! And how much have you become older (or younger) today?

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