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November 11, 2023

How old are you? By Muyiwa Adetiba

How old are you? By Muyiwa Adetiba

Muyiwa Adetiba

I recently attended the wake-keep of a schoolmate who was a year ahead of me. Three of his brothers also attended the same school so there were many ‘Old Boys’ at the event. As to be expected, there were people in the hall I hadn’t seen in five decades or even more. Some faces I recognized, especially those who had been exposed to the media in the course of their professional duties.

Many I barely recollected. It is difficult to leave someone as a teenager only to meet them as a septuagenarian and still expect instant recognition. One would have to look past drooping shoulders, ungainly gaits and sometimes slight shuffles; greyed, and in some cases, completely white hair; tired, sunken eyes and sagged skin to recognize some of those one had played games and bathed naked with in our adolescent years.

As the event started and solemn, religious music filled the hall, the cameras randomly focused on faces. I pride myself at being good at faces but believe me, I stumbled over several faces on the TV screen. I just couldn’t reconcile the faces I was seeing with people I grew up with; people I thought I knew. Then I did a double-take.

The face of that grey-haired old man in glasses staring back at me looked vaguely familiar. Then I realized it was me.Was that the face these school mates would also be trying hard to identify? The point is that the face that was captured by the harsh camera light and reflected on the screen was older that the person I fancied I was. It happens to the best of us even when we look at the mirror every morning. 

This experience was captured very succinctly in a social media post I received recently. In it, a lady who had seen a few Christmases found herself in the waiting room of doctor. As she looked around the room, her roving eyes fastened on a diploma on the wall. The name on the diploma was very familiar. It was the name of a classmate she had a crush on in school.

Could it be the same person? She smiled to herself in anticipation. All coquettish thoughts were however dispelled when she was ushered into the presence of a balding, grey haired man whose clothes were trying unsuccessfully to hide loose flesh including a bulging stomach. This couldn’t be the dashing, athletic guy who had caused her heart to flutter on many occasions in school.The doctor did his work.

At the end of the session, she couldn’t resist her rising curiosity. She asked if he attended the school she had attended. He nodded in affirmation. She asked about the year he graduated convinced it must be years before her class. When he mentioned the year, she screamed ‘we were in the same class’ in exclamation. His response was to remove his glasses, look at her more closely, more intently and ask ‘what subject did you teach?’

In his mind, this old woman in front of him couldn’t be his classmate. A sentiment that exactly mirrored hers. A sentiment that largely arises from the belief that because we feel younger, therefore we must look younger. To buttress the point, very few of us would look at the recent photograph of an old friend we haven’t seen in say thirty years and not comment on howold they look. It could be the wrinkled face, the rotund body or the greying hair. The reality is that we would likely elicit exactly the same sentiment from them if they took a look at our own recent photographs. It is a classic case of a man in the mirror seeing only what he wants to see.

This phenomenon has evoked a lot of interests over the years. A dear friend sent a related feature article from an international journal to me recently. The central theme was aging and people’s perspectives and perceptions towards the subject. One of the questions asked was what age people felt they were in their minds. The responses were varied and very interesting.

Many people picked the years they were most active. Some minds got stuck at the freest or most romantic period of their lives. Not surprisingly, many picked younger, more productive years, some by as much as twenty years. Interestingly, a few young people fancied themselves older by a few years. Intrigued by the article, I asked people around me what age they felt they were in their minds.

I was rather surprised that their responses tallied with what I read in the journal proving the universality of this concept. Only one person, in her late sixties, said she felt her age in her mind. Many shaved years off insisting you were as old asyou felt and they felt young. One said she always complimented herself anytime she met her old classmates because she felt at least ten years younger than them – she is in her late sixties.

A 70-year-old man who had the reputation of being a ‘ladies’ man’ in his younger days still fancied himself as being able to ‘perform’ as well as he did during his most sexually active years. That would be shaving at least twenty years off his age. A friend, Jimi Disu – he says I can mention his name- put the age he feels in his head as the age he was during our years at the Vanguard because he feels he still able to do virtually the same things. I assured him that would be stretching things a bit knowing the things he didduring those wild years, almostforty years ago!

As for me, because I still wear the same size of clothes and I am comfortable to some extent, with the styles I wore twenty years ago, I delude myself that I am still the same person. To compound things, I like the music I danced to during my night clubbing years. And to the annoyance of some of my friends, I like my analogue years too.

So one could say I have shaved about twenty years off my age in some respects. The problem is that I like to feel ‘matey’ with women of that age bracket too and view my real age mates as being over the hill. It is a problem because these ‘young women’ see me as I really am and not as I fancy myself to be.They react by genuflecting and calling ‘uncle’ even before I utter a word. That helps to recalibrate and stops me from making an ass of myself.

It is nice to feel young. It is nice to surround oneself with youthful things. But in reality, very few if anyone, is as young as they let themselves feel. The body knows even if the mind is on a fancy trip. As for me, I have learnt to abide by some words in that lovely poem titled ‘Desiderata’. That is, ‘to gracefully surrender the things of youth’.