Moving into old age with elegance

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Moving into old age with elegance


The other day I saw a familiar face on the street and we exchanged a handshake. But something was not right. I knew the face but couldn’t come up with the name. After parting with him and trying different combinations of letters, I finally remembered.

Yesterday, I couldn’t remember the name of the person who sang “Time to Say Goodbye” with soprano Sarah Brightman. I knew it was the blind Italian tenor but couldn’t recall the name, Andrea Bocelli. It was chilling to realize that what Leo Rosenberg had said could be true: “First you forget names, then you forget faces, then you forget to pull your zipper up, then you forget to pull your zipper down.”

As you grow older, it’s not just physical function but also mental capacity that declines. The most notable symptom is memory loss. The memory capacity of a human peaks at age 22 and declines gradually until it falls drastically around age 40. When my wife turned 50, she began taking notes constantly after forgetting important tasks on a number of occasions.

At a dinner with friends, one friend proposed a toast to a “healthy life until we’re 99!” and added, “Let’s die after being sick for a couple days.” He wished for health and longevity as well as a graceful death. It may be too much to ask that we age well and die well in addition to living well during life. The era of centenarians has begun, thanks to advancements in medicine, but it is still not certain if longevity is a blessing or a curse. For myself, I would be more than happy to have to an average life span with good health throughout. I want to live healthily and happily until I’m 77 and die peacefully.

In his book “You’re Looking Very Well,” Lewis Wolpert, emeritus professor of biology at University College London, claims that aging gives you experiences, and therefore, the old have a wisdom the young never will. As you get older, you acquire the ability to look at an issue from different angles and find flaws. Unfortunately, people like National Assembly Speaker Park Hee-tae, who refused to admit his faults until he was forced to resign dishonorably, makes me wonder if we really do get wiser as we grow older.

Even if you miss the days when you were young, you can never go back. As Irish writer Oscar Wilde wrote, “The tragedy of old age is not that one is old, but that one was once young.” But always looking to the past makes a man ugly. It is time we accept reality and start anew.

The author is an editorial writer of the JoongAng Ilbo.

by Bae Myung-bok
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