Frustrating intimate relationship between life and death

“Never fear growing old; there are many who have never had the privilege”.

“Never fear growing old; there are many who have never had the privilege”.


Of recent there was a discussion on one of the radio FMs we have, where a man who claimed to be in his late forty’s, talked about all sorts of things, from the weather to the post election violence in Kenya and the elections in Zimbabwe. The discussion was interesting and actually touched the future prospects of Rwanda.

But above all what was amazing was the old person’s worry that he will not be young enough to enjoy what the future holds for Rwanda as a Country.

“Look here my friends, by the time the railway line is completed, the Bugesera Airport constructed, the free trade zone created and the convention center operational, my eyes will no longer be in position to show the legs direction,” complained the old man.

These are two astonishing examples of the anxiety associated with old age. It is so ironical however, that all of us want to live longer but none want to grow old.
A common goal among many aged is to stay young.

In contrast to the past, youth is now the ideal. In the past to be an adult was the ideal. Now the older generation wants to look as young as possible. Some try to camouflage their age by dressing like teenagers and hanging out in places meant for the young.

Many people have stuck to the things they used to do when in their twenty’s, they seem not to want to let their youthful days end.

This ends up frustrating them the more. For example, when you go to a club you used to frequent twenty years ago in your twenties, the club will still be the same and you will be an odd man out with your old age.

The fear of growing old is usually associated with the women folks. Ask a woman about her age and she will remind you how it is impolite to ‘ask a woman about her age.’

Women feel free to express their fear, while men often avoid disclosing what they feel deep inside. The apparent signs of growing old affect them profoundly.

Nonetheless, some men are happy with their age and do not hide that the maturity they attained means a lot in their every day life.

Emmanuel Kabanda, in his late thirty’s says that old age has made him older and wiser; “in my 20’s I had no clue what the 30s would look and feel like and as I live through them, I am quite pleased by the amount of self-awareness and confidence I have now. I can imagine that it only gets better with time.”

Kabanda admits that old age leaves him with a wistful feeling but he would never want to turn back to those old times.

“I do my best now to watch my weight and overall health, engage in loving relationships with others, and stay spiritually connected. These things can indeed keep you “young”,” says Kabanda.

The aged treated with disdain

Many people fear growing old because they have not achieved their dreams. Many dream of getting married at 30 and financially stable at 40.

The realization that neither of the two is within their reach, sends a panic that leads to frustration and then the wish that if only they would remain a little younger.

Many people have reduced their ages considerably so as to fit in certain age categories mainly for financial gains. A look at our sportsmen and women will reveal this reality.

Moslow’s hierarchy of human needs shows a stage of self actualization where people who attain this stage are a source of wisdom to the young, they have achieved all that they planned to achieve and their role rests on guiding the young achieve their dreams like they did.

Ask the young ones, their word is treated with utmost respect. Special names like ‘senior citizen’ or ‘chronologically gifted’ are coined to reflect their status.

But with the biting levels of poverty in our societies, it is increasingly becoming difficult to find such people amongst us.

People who have attained retirement age are pressing against being retired. There is a lot that they have not achieved so they crave for more time to do so. For them old age is a misfortune.

“If only we could stay young,” they wish. The fear of growing old can also be traced in the fear of death. Aging confronts us with our mortality. Every moment we are alive, we are aging.

Life and death are intimately linked. People dread the day when all earthly possessions are swept away, including the ability to enjoy them. Old age exposes the failure of our entire civilization.

People claim that the moment of aging has arrived when the sum total of memories has become greater than our expectations within us.

To grow old means to lose acquaintances and lifelong friends to distance, illness and death. Obituaries testify that life is the process of aging and aging is the steady progress of dying. This is the motivation behind the craving to stay young.

Aging frustrates modern youth. It interferes with their desire “to get things done.” Have you ever noticed the impatience shown in a line up at say a bank when an old person is trying to carry out a transaction?

The slower pace often exasperates the teller and the younger customers in the queue waiting for their turn. So how do we cope with aging?

We live in a society that has shown little understanding of growing old, and valued it even less. The old in our communities are horded away to special homes for the old so as to allow the young ones ‘have a life’ without bother. In poor communities like ours, the old line the streets to beg for a living.

Many have tried to ‘fix’ the problem of old age. People not only want to avoid suffering and decline, both physical and mental, but also expect to retain the strength to accomplish the same things as the young. Their hidden hope is that physical immortality can be achieved.

So people have resorted to plastic surgery (especially in developing countries) to ‘put right’ what age has ‘put wrong’. Dieticians are recommending this but only to dissuade you from using the same the next day.

Special programmes which include techniques for enhancement of physical functioning and mental skills, through yoga, martial arts, proper nutrition and aerobic exercises can be found in many places today.

Society has encouraged its young to think of growing old not as part of the human condition but as a solvable scientific and technical problem.

This secular hope to extend life expectancy appears to come down to one simple idea: more time in our lives is sought by almost everyone; science can bring it about; therefore science ought to bring it about.

Growing old is a reality and a sad reality for many. Christians or believers can take consolation from the bible where it says in Isaiah 46-4 that ‘Even to your old age and gray hairs I am he, I am he who will sustain you.”

The young should strive to achieve whatever they intend to achieve when they are still strong, so that old age finds them satisfied with the way they lived their lives.

It is after living a satisfactory early life that we will have a satisfied old generation that will be a source of wisdom to the young. An old generation that will guide the young on a path they (old) have trodden.


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