Getting older and not feeling old. Getting older where I am celebrating a birthday every year but not feeling like my age. I am certainly moving up in numbers, and everytime I have to input my date online I find myself scrolling a bit more further to find my year of birth. However, I don’t feel that much older.
Maybe feeling is not the appropriate word to use, especially since in physical terms, my body is feeling things. There are a couple of TikTok videos about how people from a certain age can no longer make sudden movements. These are movements like suddenly jumping off the bed, or getting up quickly from the couch. Apparently almost any movement that involves swivelling your hips, or back, or arms or shoulders cannot be performed too quickly. Guys, TikTok notwithstanding, these are things I no longer take lightly because the body does not lie! The body will not spare you and the body will sometimes embarrass you.
I used to wonder why elderly people were always complaining about body aches. I wonder no more. Growing up, we lived with quite a number of extended relatives – cousins, aunties, uncles, you name it. My dad was like a collector of family members. And the mix was as eclectic as they come, in age, gender and lifestyle choices. This just meant at some point in time there was always someone being taken to school or joining campus or going for a doctor’s appointment.
One of my aunts stayed with us for over a decade. She had previously lived in the countryside. We housed her for a couple of days before she was due for a doctor’s appointment, and she never left. She loved basking in the sun. Early morning and late afternoon were her favourite times in the day to bask. My parents house had a back verandah just behind the kitchen and it had a spot that was consistently hit by sunlight at these particular times in the day. She would grab a seat from the dining area and place it in this spot and sit there for as long as the sun was out. She would lean back in the chair, eyes always closed and she would have as much of her skin exposed. This was the only time you ever got to see her skin. The rest of the time she was the epitome of modest fashion. This aunt of mine was hilarious. Her sense of dry humour appealed to me. She was also very good at keeping quiet, read that as keeping secrets, about stuff that would generally have landed my siblings and I in trouble.
This aunt of mine had one character trait I considered a flaw. It is at this point that we will pardon my naïveté. My aunt, for all her goodness, was a complainer. She would be ready with a list of complaints about everything that ached in her body, ready to share with anyone who was willing to listen. At first, I would listen patiently, because growing up in an African household, you were expected to respect your elders always. And part of being respectful meant if an older person was speaking to you, you stopped all else and listened attentively. My aunt would pick the randomest of times to share all her aches and pains. I could be sweeping the veranda and she just starts telling me stuff, despite the fact that I was in the middle of a chore, a chore that my mother most likely needed completing before she got back home. My aunt would start her complaints in the most casual manner, like we had already been talking about it and now she was in the middle of emphasising a point. Out of the blues she would say something like:
“So that is how last night my arm felt like it was dying. Something like pins and needles but not really the same.”
It was at that point I would look up mid-sweep and go like, huh? Once she saw that you were giving her statement any type of acknowledgment, she would take that as a cue to keep going and that would be the end of your sweeping. At least until she was satisfied in narrating her account of ailments.
At first, we all gave her the time of day, from my parents to my siblings and every other relative living under the same roof. We eventually all noticed that this was becoming a habit that inconvenienced everyone. She just would not let up. So we had to get clever. Given that her schedule was very predictable, we would all avoid the back veranda at certain times of the day, unless we wanted to be regaled with tales of “what ache is ailing aunty today?”
This aunt of mine, unfortunately passed away in 2021. Her death was illness-related.
I find myself thinking of her every time I get a random body ache. And almost immediately internally apologise to her because I never realised how real and how uncomfortable those aches were until I started to experience them myself. This current season of my life is inundated with new ways in which my body aches or hurts or reminds me that I am not invincible. I am slowly and humbly accepting that I am in my taking-supplements era. That quality sleep is no longer a luxury but a necessity, so having a strict bedtime and wake up schedule is essential if I am to function the next day. That going out to party in spaces that are noisy and full of people fills me with anxiety and I much rather prefer the silence of my house.
Remember though, for me, that growing old is more of a state of mind as opposed to a number added on my calendar date? Despite my body betraying me in numerous ways, my mind, my heart, my soul, my spirit, my whole being really does not feel old. Never have I felt more alive!
Life really is for living. We get to live everyday but only die once. So now I am all about giving myself the chance to experience life in all its goodness. I’m allowing myself to feel the highs and the lows, but also celebrating and being grateful for the littlest of things.
The act of waking up everyday is one I genuinely appreciate; that I have the gift of life for one more day. It may sound so minor, but it is so major. Gratitude for good health despite the aches – I have no lingering illness that keeps me medicated or in and out of hospitals. I have such a deep appreciation for the people in my life who add colour to it. Whoever said that you are the sum total of the five people you hang around was on the money. The people around me have enriched my life so much and I do not take that for granted. I’m rediscovering things that make my heart smile like colouring and reading and basic stuff like a cup of coffee in the morning or basking in the January sun, or jamming to a dope playlist on the way to work. Those small small things have really come to matter so much to me. They keep me forever young.