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  • Writer's pictureMaulana Wahiduddin Khan

Growing Old Is Not A Countdown

Updated: Dec 18, 2019

It is widely held that once individuals become old, it is time to spend their remaining years in withdrawal or retirement, as their overall capabilities diminish and they are no longer capable of discharging their former responsibilities. It is for this reason that as people age, they begin to lose hope and then so many elderly people are relegated to lead lives of despair and helplessness, sometimes in old age homes. The best-selling Colombian author, Gabriel García Márquez observed in his book, One Hundred Years of Solitude, 

“The secret of a good old age is simply an honorable pact with solitude.”

This is an extremely morose approach to life, for just languishing, often in seclusion, is definitely not what nature expects from man. Ageing is a natural phenomenon and must be embraced rather than treated like an ailment. As a person ages, his body weakens physically but usually, not his mind. Even the argument of lack of physical strength does not hold good in today’s tech-savvy world. An old person may, of course, be unable to run up and down a flight of steps but he can still use a lift or an escalator /elevator to reach his destination.

Similarly, a person may lose his vision but, with the support of technology, he can still continue to enjoy his favorite books. Physical limitation is no longer a disabling aspect of life – all one needs is a developed mind and the capacity to think and learn anew.

In old age, a man’s experience, knowledge and maturity increase, offering him multi-faceted ways to lead a fulfilling and meaningful life. This view was endorsed in a study that found that in old age, the mind continues to produce as many neurons as it did at an earlier age. Says a report in The Times of India of April 7, 2018, “The findings suggest that many senior citizens remain more cognitively and emotionally intact than commonly believed, said Maura Boldrini, an associate professor at Columbia University in the US. ‘We found that older people have a similar ability to make thousands of hippocampal new neurons from progenitor cells as younger people do.’”

In other words, as one ages, one’s mind becomes more competent as a result of the production of brain cells coupled with years of wisdom and experience.

Ageing is not the beginning of a countdown, but is rather, the time for a count-up. The world can benefit greatly from the planning skills and wisdom of the aged. This is, in fact, nature’s way of enabling man to pass on his wisdom to succeeding generations.

Longevity and old age are often spoken of in the same breath. But here the emphasis is misplaced. The key aspect of old age is maturity, not longevity. An old person develops mature thinking by experiencing the vicissitudes of life. This not only enhances his knowledge but makes him a prolific source of guidance and advice. Succeeding generations are always in need of this unique gift from nature so that they may plan a way forward. All major developments have taken place in the world by people ‘standing on the shoulders of their predecessors’. It is time to actively acknowledge the contribution that senior citizens can make to society at large and to bring them into the mainstream so that they may uphold the veracity of the old adage -- ‘old is gold.’

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