Last week my quest – and worthy it was, I thought; was in search of the ‘seven signs of aging’ obliquely addressed by an advertisement for a well-known brand of filler.
After all, dignified old age is the Holy Grail of the Baby Boomer generation. We all like to feel that, with the aid of a few pills and potions to ease this and stiffen that, to keep that beating regularly and to prevent this from rotting we have discovered an elixir of youth. Not only do we prolong life, we deny the existence of decrepitude. It simply will not happen.
The manifestations of our advancing years are obvious to all about us, if not to ourselves. The seven signs, commandments of the narcissist religion are there for all to see. I hope by revealing them to you I will make your pathetic attempts at concealment a touch more successful but I abjure you, do not hope for much.
This week I will deal with the third sign of aging: inflexibility.
Inflexibility is as insidious as it is inevitable. The first thing to apportion is blame. Yes, part of this is your fault. Had you not weakened at the prospect of that ice-cream Sundae, or taken the large fries with your Big Mac, you might have allayed the condition somewhat, but you would not have averted it altogether. It is also a matter of degree – if as a principal dancer for the Royal Ballet you are universally admired for your grace and fluidity in your declining years, in your private thoughts the problem is no less real. The third entrechat hurts so much more acutely than it did, the leaps are not as high, there are distinctly unsavory things happening in the tights region that ten years ago would have horrified you. By your own high standards, your flexibility is being challenged, and though part of the fault is yours, not all of it is.
Alterations occur in the body as we hit the Doldrums of middle age. The waistline disappears, to be replaced by a nice smooth apple-y roundness that is aesthetically much more pleasing, but challenges fashion designers beyond their limits. From the age of fifty it will no longer be possible to keep trousers aloft or sweaters on the runway. Frequent hoisting or severe tethering will be required, and doomed to failure – usually in circumstances that are destined to cause the maximum embarrassment.
This same re-contouring will impose natural limits upon basic activities like bending, or twisting, or stretching. Vertebrae seem to adopt a more distant relationship to one another, and are liable to become total strangers at the least dissent. That casual, over-shoulder glance becomes a commitment; the higher step a journey, bending down an act of sacrifice. Who was it who defined old age as ‘stooping to re-tie a shoe lace and wondering if there is anything else you could do while you are down there’? Suddenly the floor, the bed, the chair become very comfortable and the reasons to rise from them less convincing.
As dotage advances the tentacles of inflexibility can only spread wider, reaching into areas previously unexplored, creating new problems wherever they take hold. The future lies beyond pointless idiosyncrasies of dress ( your personal belief that wearing a deerstalker makes you look cerebral when actually it only makes you look mad); acts of self-denial (yes you can still do handstands, back-flips, that amazing yoga pose you learned at seventeen – as long as there is someone nearby to help you up) and determination to show you still dance with all the sexual allure of those golden years.
No, the future lies in graceful acceptance. As long as you are aware that hip joint has only limited use left in it you won’t expend what remains by taking it jogging – an activity which is filling your relatives with concern anyway – they’ve seen you when you’ve come back. If you concede to sound – that’s when the process of turning your head is not only painful, but audible, and if you understand that your stomach and beef vindaloo are no longer the fast friends they once were, there is hope for you.
You can organize your decline with dignity. You can take kindly the counsel of the years. Admit at last that though you still like gardening you need raised beds, and that you would actually prefer to take the elevator at the mall. Leave the odd Zimmer-Frame about the place, scatter pamphlets for Stanna Stairlifts on your coffee table. Inflexibility now becomes your friend: others begin to regard you as a cause, you attract looks of sympathy from strangers and things get miraculously done without any contribution or effort from you. It is a wonderful phase. Tell yourself you deserve it, and dedicate yourself to making it last as long as possible.