My biggest fear in life is not death. Don’t get me wrong, I’m scared of the inevitable nothingness, the eternal darkness, that may be waiting for me at the other end. I’m scared that all of my lifelong work and struggles to better myself and the lives around me will be all for nought. I pray there’s an afterlife but try to live as if there isn’t. I worry that I won’t leave a legacy behind that makes the world a better place, or if I do that my legacy will fade away into time until I’m just another pile of ash in the ocean. It baffles me that I am scared of something that is so natural to all life. But I want time to change the world, and I am forever aware that that time is ticking.
What scares me more, though, is not death but rather dying. From the day we are born we are dying. We emerge into the world, the clock starts and forever more we are on borrowed time. We grow up being told to make the most of it, and we start with the best of intentions for our life. We’re going to get our dream job, buy our dream home, start our dream business, live comfortably. But life is one big dodgeball court. And all she loves to do is throw shit at you as hard as she can. At your face. Or your crotch. Wherever hurts the most.
Over time we may realise that our money doesn’t collect as we would like it to. We lose people in our life that we feel like we needed there. We settled for another job while we waited for the dream job to come along and it never did. Financial struggles knock on our door. We settle into the mundane 9-5 life, waiting for life to come to us. Then one day we may wake up and we will be 70, with no money to our name, no legacy left behind except the relationships we forged, living in a shitty rental with a pathetic pension (although at this rate I likely won’t even have that) and we are invisible.
That’s what scares me about getting old… invisibility. The feeling that no one sees you. That you are useless to society. That you have no purpose. If you sit on a street corner and watch the way people interact with the elderly, you will see that most people avoid eye contact, don’t speak to them; it’s almost as if they are not there. Maybe it’s because we tend to ignore the things that we most want to avoid, and elderly people remind us of our mortality, our death hiding around the corner.
Then imagine on top of this that most people of that age have lost the person dearest to them. Their families don’t have time to visit them because they are so busy in their 9-5 grind. It would be so isolating, so devoid of human contact and love.
Of course it’s not all doom and gloom, and my family members have shown me that it is possible to age gracefully with a twinkle in your eye, a skip in your step and lightness in your heart. They have made ageing less scary – it’s harder to be scared of something which can give you an excuse to do anything you want. Want to wear your pyjamas in public? You’re old, so it’s fine. Wolf whistle the hot tradies while you’re walking? Oh it’s so sweet, cause you’re so old. If you smack someone on the ass with your cane then it’s just a good story for them to tell their mates. I read a story once about a man who always wanted to drive his car straight through his garage door. So his family let him rev it as hard as he could inside the garage, and let loose. He trashed it. The family thought – well, he’s always wanted to do it, and he’s old, so why not. With age comes the freedom of not giving a shit about anything, and I cannot wait for that.
But this is why I see anyone, whether they are 20 or whether they are 90. I empathise with their loneliness, and I see my potential future self in their shoes. I can imagine that feeling that life may have slipped away and that you can’t get it back in the few years you might have left. I pity the losses of their friends and family over time. I just feel everything for them. And I hope that when I am in their shoes that there will still be someone out there who is willing to sit with me, kiss me, hold me, and make me feel like life is inescapable and forever accessible, and that makes me feel that I am forever young. And it’s an honour to be that person for others.