Tales from the land of old age #1


Once upon a time, it was still possible to think that in spite of all evidence to the contrary,  one could evade, sidestep or at the very least, ignore old age. Those were good days when I was able to live the ‘active senior lifestyles’ promoted in the relevant mags, and my mirror wasn’t yet an object of fear, something to be avoided at all costs.

Alas, those days are gone for good.

And now, I hate my life. Yes, that sounds harsh, but it’s true. And living as I do in a small city full of oldsters who smile and say nice things, I feel out of sync. Still, there must be more old people like me; I can’t be the only one harbouring ‘bad’ thoughts.

There must be people who have noticed that there was a time when feeling young on the inside could still, somehow, make a difference on the outside– and that it didn’t last. That old age comes in unbidden, bearing gifts of medicine, doctor visits, pain, depression, loneliness and dying friends. And an outer form that in no way represents how one really is, on the inside. All of these plagues are commonplace, of course. But I don’t see why I have to smile benignly and pretend to be okay with them. I’m not okay, and I will rage even if my nearest and dearest find it distressing. (I don’t think they waste any time worrying about it). In the West, the old are invisible. Youth is in, as it should be. But is the non-position old people ‘enjoy’ in western democracies actually good for us, for the family, the nation, the world? That’s a question worth asking.

So, welcome to Anecdotage. You might not ‘enjoy’ it, but I promise, you won’t be bored. Come along, see what it’s like to live here and let me know if you have found a better country in which to become old. Oh, wait…I know one: it’s Korea or at least those parts that still live according to tradition and custom.

I know this because one of my young (he just turned fifty) friends married a Korean woman of great charm and intelligence. For financial reasons, they lived with her parents for a while, and as a white man from North America, he had to make a lot of adjustments. Since this is something he’s good at, it wasn’t a problem. He told me that when they told her parents they were getting married, the reaction was friendly but it was clear that they would have to seek the blessing of the family matriarchs, who lived in the country. While they were travelling into the hinterland of Korea, his bride informed him that there were very strict rules governing the impending meeting.

The most important part was that as soon as they entered the house of the grandparents, they were expected to prostrate themselves and stay there until asked to rise. This was surely a novelty for my friend, but again, he complied. The blessing was given and in due course, they were married in Seoul wearing traditional Korean costume. His mother was invited, and as is the custom, showered with so much love, courtesy and consideration that she was heard to say that being old in Korea was rather like having died and gone to heaven. And indeed, old people are treated with the utmost kindness and consideration in Korean society, in rather stark contrast to our own. When I met my friend’s new wife, she also treated me in the Korean manner, which is to say, with exquisite courtesy and attention. It was unlike anything I had ever experienced from my own family, and I rather liked it. In fact, I was so impressed that I told them I would relocate to Korea once I ‘really’ got old.

That was more than 15 years ago. Of course, I didn’t make good on my promise. I stayed here, in western Canada, and all I can think about these days is how to avoid ending up in a ‘home’ for old people. My mother, who died of a massive stroke two months shy of turning 87, is my role model. She managed to remain independent to the end. The question is, will I?



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