By Muyiwa Adetiba
Many years ago, I won’t tell when, I attended the 40th birthday celebration of a close family member.
As the symbolic champagne bottle was popped and toasts went round, the phrase ‘life begins at 40’ echoed and re-echoed. Since I had not yet reached the magical age, I turned to an aunt who was sitting by and asked curiously, if life really began at 40.
She smiled and said ‘Muyiwa, don’t let anybody deceive you. What they actually mean is that life begins to end at 40. The first to go is your eye sight; then the joints and certain muscles in the body. Then organs too begin to need special attention.The brain, I can tell you, is also not left out of the deterioration process.’
I felt she was being unduly pessimistic. Much like saying to some one who hasn’t travelled before, that there is nothing to London except the cold, the rain, and a general absence of the sun. But she was, as I have since found out, right on almost all counts. I suppose winter — either in London or of life —is the same.
A couple of years after this party, I had gone to see a friend who was just about 40, in his office. His secretary brought a letter to him which he held at an arm’s length to read. I joked and said he would need to decide whether to fix his eyes or extend his arm.
A few years later, the joke was on me as I found that I was pushing printed matter farther and farther away just to read. And I, who used to read with candle and torch lights, found I needed brighter and brighter lights to read. When I started borrowing reading glasses from people around me was when I decided that my eye sight was indeed failing and that I needed help.
The Optician was a witty, vivacious woman who cracked jokes all through. Jokes like; ‘You must feel the whole world is conspiring against you. Why, for goodness sake, must Publishers decide to make their prints smaller? And why should NEPA keep generating weaker and weaker lights?’ She assured me however, when she was done with the examinations, that it was ‘an age thing’ and there was no reason to feel bad about it.
I then started observing people around me and I found — because I was now in those shoes — that it was almost an acid test for determining those around 40. You might be blessed with a trim body, dark hair, and well, baby face —but the eyes invariably expose you.
Another thing that is an ‘age thing’ is, for many, the increasing pain in the joints. It is, my dear, the beginning of arthritis. And genuine sufferers need to be pitied. I have seen people who kneel down and can’t get up. Then the back pain. The lower back pain. The thing about muscles at this age is that they complain when you use them and they complain when you don’t use them. Nothing, it seems, can be taken for granted any more. And speaking of muscles, the stomach is another way to ‘tell’ middle age. They lose their elasticity and become distended — and ugly.
It is also around this time that people routinely discover diabetes and high blood pressure. It is the time, also, to look closely at the liver and the kidney and change your eating and drinking habits.
A decade later, (at about 50) everybody tells you that you need to test your prostate if you are male and uterus if you are female. All of this in addition to the fact that you now read more health columns and watch more health programmes. A small palpitation of the heart makes you reach for the doctor. You wonder, not for the first time, why growing old should be such a pain.
Nothing seems immune to this invasive disease called old age. It ravages the body — and the brain too.
A joke was once told of how to recognise a 50 year old man. ‘You give him a mobile phone in one hand and his car key in the other. Then you call him and speak to him for just two minutes. By the time you drop the phone, he would have forgotten where his car key is.’
A retentive memory was one of my strengths. I used to be able to come across a quote or a profound phrase, read it twice, and never forget it. About ten years ago, I came across a beautiful poem. I read it twice, thrice and was surprised that only disjointed bits and pieces stayed after the exercise. I also find that I recollect things I memorised in my youth more easily than things I memorised in later years. Again, you find that your attention span diminishes as your age advances making it hard to focus on anything for long without your mind wandering.
This virus has gone into intimate areas too if you get what I mean. As one wise, old man observed, ‘What you used to do all night, now takes all night to do. Or, in some cases, all night to attempt.’
Again, why is old age such a pain? Of what use is living if you can not participate? Or as Millie Jackson puts it, ‘partake?’
This ‘aging man’— and many like him —want to be encouraged about the gains of old age; wisdom, respect etc. Please drop a line to cheer him up.