By Muyiwa Adetiba
I know many people who say the best years of their lives are the secondary
school years. I know some who will swear that their childhood years were the best years. Those who belong to the latter group remember the fierce love of parents who shielded them from every real and imaginary harm. They remember the loving fights with siblings that often ended with treats from parents and declarations of no winner, no vanquished from the combatants.
They remember this cocoon of love with wistful nostalgia especially if it ended too soon due to early bereavement of one or even the two parents, divorce or travels. Those who remember the secondary school years recollect the controlled freedom of adolescent years. They remember the formation of character and the development of relationships that have lasted beyond adulthood. They remember the dreams of youth; the games and pranks they engaged in. But perhaps most importantly, they remember that those career and life foundations they have been building on over the years were laid in the secondary school.
Last month, an elderly lady begged to differ. She said her best life was experienced in the university. She is in her late seventies and attended one of the best secondary schools in the old Western Region. Although those schools would be rated excellent in terms of moral and academic training, they were just a shade better than convents in their approach to expectations for a girl child. Especially if it was an all girl’s school as many were in those days. So her blossoming into womanhood with all it entails, probably took place in the university.
I know she met her late husband in the university. So love might have played a part in her preference. The university system in the sixties was also idyllic as it treated students with dignity while encouraging them to make forays into many aspects of life. It is possible that it was her opportunity to flirt with many dogmas. Whatever her reason, her preference is hers to make.
In a couple of months, a friend and schoolmate will be turning 70. It seemed like yesterday that we gathered to celebrate his sixtieth. The occasion also marked his retirement from a top post in a government parastatal. When the crowd had thinned out and a few of us were left to enjoy wine and good cognac – his favourite drink then – he made a statement I still remember today. ‘Now I am free from the encumbrances and strictures of office.
I can be at Ikoyi Club as early as nine if I want or stay late at the snooker bar if I choose. I have paid my dues. After all, Yoruba people say ‘eniti oto eyin ka ni onfi owo bo enu’ (only those who are not old enough to lose a tooth will cover their mouths because of a missing tooth)’.
If there is any reason to describe the sixties as the best time of life, it is the coming to terms with self. Like a friend meaningfully said ‘you now know that you can never be an Adenuga or a Dankote but it’s alright’. What it means is that whatever has not been achieved at 60 is likely to be elusive because it is the time of winding down. By then, you should be at the top – or near it – of your profession or vocation.
In many ways, it is the plateau of life. The climb to the top has reached a peak of sorts. This climb up the ladder of success is always fraught with uncertainties, disappointments as well as excitements. Now is the time for introspection; to ruminate on the road taken and the one missed; to examine what success means. You can look at your body of work and determine whether your contributions to family, profession and society have been worthwhile. Have you paid your dues as you should or are you wanting?
This plateau allows you to make amends if you so desire because the physical and mental energies are not all gone – ‘though much is taken, much still abides’ to quote Ancient Mariner. And because of this, your plateau allows you to look for little hills to climb not necessarily for economic reasons but for fulfillment. I know people who promised to go back to school for knowledge in areas that are totally unrelated to what they have been engaged in – though, to the best of my knowledge, only one did. It is the time to indulge in passions – travels, music, family, books, even fantasies – that have been put in abeyance due to the exigencies of life and living.
What those who have experienced their sixties and are settling into their seventies will probably say about this period of life, is the release they get from so many pressures; pressure to succeed, to pay school fees, to juggle love and work. With that release comes stock taking and charting of new directions. People say the financial pressure is heightened at this stage because of financial uncertainties.
But I think it applies more to those who did not plan for old age or have complicated their lives with new marriages and young children. Otherwise, one’s needs at that stage of life are very limited. Besides, financial pressures never really go away from the moment you start to fend for yourself until you die.
Life in one’s sixties is idyllic for those who have come to terms with themselves and their limitations. The pace is less frenetic. The search for the meaning to life has either been won or abandoned. The spiritual connection to the Supreme Being is either stronger or abandoned. The notion of the fragility of life gets more pronounced.
With that comes appreciation for the little things of life – stopping to smell the roses as they say. With that comes the need to indulge in the seconds and the minutes because they are getting more precious by the day. For someone who has experienced this phase of life, I can say life in one’s sixties can be the most beautiful if one lets it.