“Another belief of mine is that everyone else my age is an adult, whereas I am merely in disguise.” (Margaret Atwood), from the Jack’s Winning Words blog.
The thing about getting older is that you really don’t age, at least in your mind. Your body may start to betray the years of wear and tear, but in your mind you can still be young, with even a little of the child in you.
I’ve oft written about retaining the ability to be playful or imaginative or just plain silly – things usually associated with youth. I think it’s important to retain that ability to get back in touch with the inner child – the child of innocence and hope and fun. I’m reminded of another saying that I’ve used before by George Bernard Shaw – “We don’t stop playing because we get old, we get old because we stop playing.”
I suspect that Shaw was right. We tend to become way too serious as adults, too concerned about what others will think of us and too focused upon achievement of material things. Even in the times that we call “play” as adults – sports of various kids or perhaps hobbies – many focus too much upon achievement and make winning or being the best at whatever it is than just relaxing and enjoying the moment. If you’ve ever played golf with one of these overachievers, you know what I mean.
I also am coming to the conclusion that, if it were measured and charted, this serious bent would take on the look of the standard Bell Curve – very low at the beginning of life and again decreasing as we near the end. At both ends of life, many are much less serious and less constrained by rules of being an adult than we are in the middle. There is more fun at both ends of the curve.
At the beginning of life it’s probably because we are still innocent and have not yet been “conditioned” by the systems that we all exist within as we go through life – schools, work environments and polite society. At the end we may become less serious because we have learned that it really isn’t all that important after all and maybe because we just don’t care to be any more. At the start such behavior may be forgiven as just being childish and at the end one may be overlooked for being an eccentric old fool. In either case it is the one who is being childish or eccentric who has the smile on their face.
Not everyone who reaches the far end of the curve is allowed to actually enjoy that release from the need to be so serious. In order for the far end of the curve to look and feel like the beginning, another factor must also be in place – security. When we are young, most of us were probably still in the protective care of family, with our basic needs of food and shelter and security being met by the adults around them. We are free to be children. There are many places in the world that we see on the nightly news where young people who should be acting as children are forced out on the streets trying to survive among adults as adults.
At the other end of the spectrum is supposed to be the concept of retirement, which for many now seems to be out of reach. For those fortunate enough to have planned well and saved for that day, retirement can also mean release – release from the need to continue to struggle for food, shelter and other basic needs. People who can actually get to retire are also free to be children again, if they can allow themselves to be. All too many of the elderly end up homeless or alone and barely surviving on small social security or welfare payments. The luckier ones may end up back in extended family settings, now being cared for by those that they once took care of. At lease they may have that chance, as the live-in grandparents, to find a way back to some childish releases.
As I reach the far end of the Bell Curve myself, I find more and more opportunity to let the child come out and play again and I’m happy about that. He was hiding in there for far too long as the serious business of life took control. Maybe it’s time for the disguise to come off. Now, maybe I can be the grandpa who plays with the grandchildren while the adults in the other room have their serious discussions. I’m almost there. It’s time to play again. Now where did I leave my squirt gun?