The Joys and Challenges of Ageing (3)

The Joys and Challenges of Ageing (3)

It was a cold Sunday morning. I was sitting with my dad in the back yard discussing the chances of Swan Hill footy team making the finals. There was a pause, a moment of silence. Then, Dad said, “Never sit under a gum tree as an old man and talk about what you might have done: go and do it.” Sadly, my dad did not get to go and do it. He passed away in his classroom shortly before he retired. As for me in my old age, I enjoy the challenges I am confronted with each day. I enjoy being who I am. I enjoy the privilege of being old, to watch, to engage, to make mistakes, to learn new things, to wonder at the beauty of an unfolding universe, to watch grandchildren grow. My dad never had that privilege. But I have.

I got up this morning, had breakfast, worked on my computer then grabbed my phone and notebook to go to a meeting with a friend at the Ringwood Golf Club. It was 10 minutes before I realized I was on the wrong road going in the wrong direction. “What a goose”, I say to myself as I do a U-turn and head back. Distracted again. I need to sell my Range Rover. Mmm…, what price do I put on it? Where do I advertise it? Is cash ok? I wonder what my other options are?” You know what I mean. As I approach the golf club, late, and in a hurry, I come over the crest of a rise to be confronted by motionless traffic. A policeman wanders over. “You can turn around here mate” he said, “been an accident: the road is closed.” Being old, I have discovered I am allowed to make mistakes. Or at least, that’s my story, as I reach for my phone.

No, hang on a minute, I am in my new car. I can ring my friend at the golf club from my car. I pull up at the traffic lights. A quick glance to my car’s computer screen. There is a small green phone on the computer screen. I press it; then wait. Nothing. The traffic light turns green. I look up, follow the car in front of me, my phone call not made. I pull out of the traffic and park beside the road. I pick up my mobile phone and dial it. I hear the phone ringing through the car speakers. My friend comes on the phone. We briefly talk, hands free on the side of a busy road. The meeting called off. I turn off my phone and merge into another line of traffic.

Mmm… Perhaps I need to have my daughter show me how to use my phone hands free in the car. It’s Sunday afternoon a few days later. Let’s go home via Tanya’s place,” I suggest to Joan. “I need her to show me how to use my phone hands free from the car.” Joan rolls her eyes. Arriving at Tanya’s, her car not there. Then I see Jessica’s car. I wander into the house. “Where’s your mum?” I ask. “Gone shopping” her response. I begin to walk out. Then a lightbulb moment. I turn back to Jessica sitting at the kitchen bench eating left over pasta. “Know anything about a phone connection on the Tesla?” I ask.

“Not sure about that,” said Jessica. “I can have a look if you like,” her reply. A smile breaks out across her face, her eyes light up, her hair dancing as she leaves the kitchen, her bare feet touch the ground lightly as she moves out the front door headed to the car parked in the drive. I open the door. She looks in, enters the car to sit in my seat. A pause, eyes searching: her hands move, to examine, to probe, to understand; as her hands dance across the computer screen. A pause here, an occasional question, another pause as she transforms the screen in front of my eyes.

“This is cool,” her comment as I pass over my phone. I retire to the passenger seat. “It’s easy Grandpa, ring Mum” suggest Jessica. “Just talk to the computer, ask it to ring Tanya.” “How can I learn to do that” I asked. “Very simple” Jessica’s response, her face dancing, her eyes alive. “You talk to the computer. It will do the work for you.”

As a small boy, I was fascinated by the phone in my grandparent’s farmhouse. Sometimes Gran answered the phone, sometimes not. “Why don’t you answer the phone?” I once asked my gran, “It’s not for me” she said. “It’s for Auntie Daff. I answer the phone if its two short and one long ring. That’s my call sign.” These small moments are precious. They live in the memory. They are both a joy and a privilege. I wonder if, as a small boy, I gave as much enjoyment to my grandma as Jessica gave to me when she instructed me to “talk to the computer Grandpa.”

Those words “just go and do it,” have been a constant companion. Perhaps, in growing old, I have come to exercise these words. It comes through the freedom to write. To no longer fear the dreaded red pen. Or to write a report to satisfy a set of Terms of Reference. For now, I am free to sit and imagine, to describe what I see around me: those different sounds: those observed expressions, those scenes. I paint with a pen what sits with me, which moves before me. A picture of life around me, a picture that moves and is shaped by memory and imagination. Perhaps to be old allows me to reflect, to relive that moment, to write about that moment.

Perhaps the challenge in growing old is the memory of those moments when life became difficult, impossible to bear. The loss falls heavy, it leaves a shadow, it sits behind, it lingers. On 25 April the nation observed ANZAC day. My grandfather served in France during WW1. As a young man, I was called up for military service during the Vietnam War. He never spoke of his experiences, not even to his wife or family. But he opposed my call to arms.

One day when I was a 10-year-old, Pop went up to a lady in a Salvation Army uniform rattling a tin. He gave me some coins to put in her tin. It had a slot: I put in one coin then another, watched by the lady. As we left, I asked pop “Why did you give that lady money?” He paused; I looked up.His old hat was perched on the side of his head, his white hair visible under his hat. His cigarette holder behind his ear. He said in a loud voice. “When we came out of the trenches, the salvos were there with a hot mug of coffee. If you had no money, it mattered not. You paid on the way back.” My pop never marched on ANZAC day. Such was I suspect, his grief.

Perhaps the challenge as we grow old is to learn to live in a changing world. To embrace it, to work with it, to share precious moments with others, to encourage others. Then surely that is the joy of old age. The challenge for us who grow old is to embrace that reality. As for me I now live a life of death and resurrection. It is at the heart of my faith. It has shaped my life. It brings hope to my future, through a deep abiding love for each other. However, that is not everyone’s story.