The warmth of the heart prevents the body from rusting

A meditation on ageing

I recently celebrated my 60th birthday and now get cheaper theatre tickets, a senior Railcard and free bus travel. But as much as I tell myself that ’60 is the new 40’ and live my life as I always have, little can be done about other people’s perception. I know I look old. Why else would two people have stood up for me on the tube recently? So the ‘Helen Mirren hair colour’ hasn’t worked then! And I was dressed for work, not dressed down. I must look like the woman on the front of the Saga magazine – no, not Twiggy. Joan Collins, pictured on The Times magazine cover last weekend, aged 78, looks amazing. No surgery, Botox or other wizardry, she claims. Night cream, a much younger husband and fewer anxieties are how she explains her youthful looks. Well one out of three won’t do. I need a different strategy.
In her book, ‘The warmth of the heart prevents your body from rusting’, a meditation on the art of growing old, French writer and psychologist Marie de Hennezel states her belief that it is up to our generation to reinvent what it means to be old. She talks about ‘working at growing old’ by preparing ourselves physically, psychologically and spiritually during the post-retirement years for what will be the end of our lives.
Our western world presents us with a dreadful image of what it means to be old. But the reality does not have to be bleak. One of my best friends, John, is almost in his 80th year. He is cheerful and positive, jokes at my expense, sends me funny cards, makes me laugh. He walks briskly every day, cooks and bakes, takes holidays, swims, goes to the theatre, uses the internet and reads widely. An ageless profile.
In a recent study of centenarians two qualities seemed paramount in defining them: resilience ie the ability to withstand whatever life throws at you and conation, a term new to me, meaning the art of intentional effort and energy focussed on accomplishing tasks. That makes sense to me.
Growing older is still an opportunity to grow. To spend more time with family and friends. To recognise that one’s network of connections can increase and become more important. I don’t want ‘Stayed up all night finishing a draft’ as my epitaph but rather ‘Loved her family and had a lot of friends’.

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