By Manjit Kaur (UK) | OPINION |
I will be turning 60 in 3 weeks time on 29th Nov 2022. This is a milestone for me as I will be officially entering what is sometimes called old age! However, I don’t feel old… and many people tell me I don’t look old! This raises a question, what does it mean to be ‘old’, especially in a moment in human history where average life expectancy in most developed countries, such as the UK, is over 87 years.
Compare this with 1841, when it was less than half at 43 years. In some developing countries the rates for girls are still very low. In war torn Afghanistan, for instance, it is a shocking 45 years. However, we have seen significant improvements in other countries, such as India and Pakistan, where it is 72, but this is still 15 years less than the UK. The picture of life expectancy is further complicated by variations within countries as a result income, living conditions and access to health.
The reasons for premature death for women and girls has also changed. From the second half of the 19th Century most improvements were due to better sanitation, water supply, immunisation, and improvements in anti-natal care. From the second half of the 20th Century Increasing life expectancy was likely due to health improvements in the older population e.g heart disease treatment and modern medicines.
According to the World Health Organisation, despite ongoing problems with war, conflict, energy supply and pandemics, it it projected that by 2050, the world’s population of people aged 60 years and older will double (2.1 billion). In the same period, the number of persons aged 80 years or older is expected to triple between.
Coupled with falling birth rates, in short humanity is getting older, but, because of increased longevity, the way we culturally view the ageing process is also shifting. Indeed, far from seeing old age are a period of inactivity and social withdrawal, today, old age is now seen in positive terms as the “third age’’. And precisely because I expect to live for many years to come, I prefer not to talk about getting old but that I am entering my “third age.”
The “third age” is the period in the life course that occurs after retirement, but most importantly before the onset of disability. It is a period in which we have the capacity to remain physically active and engaged and because, perhaps free from work and child care commitments, it can involve travel and participation in new activities. One only needs to look at the holiday market to see how active older people are in today’s age. And with the advent of social media and online networking, even physical disability is no longer a barrier to engaging across the world.
One aspect of ageing is that you accumulate memories, which keep on growing with age. Some of these can be happy and some can be sad or traumatic. In some senses successful ageing is to be able to navigate the challenges of life, and to learn and to grow from each experience, memory or life event, positive and negative.
But, there are some moments in your life that are truly transformative, where one’s sense of identity is dramatically shifted. For me one such moment was when I got married, which was a period of both excitement and uncertainty; especially having left my parental home in Birmingham for a new life with by partner in Bradford. The picture is of me is at the age of 22 in 1985 when I had only been married for a few weeks. It was taken in my my kitchen and as you can see I am heavily engaged in domestic chores, which was ok, though I did have to learn to cook Punjabi food from scratch; thank God my mum was just on the other end of the telephone!
But most of all, it reminds me about the many challenges I faced entering a new phase in my life. When you have been looked after so much in your parents house, taking on all the duties of a householder can be a big shock and, If I am honest, I didn’t have a clue in those days! The fact that I was the youngest in the family probably contributed to this.
I had never paid a bill in my life but had a shock when the first telephone bill came in the post; this was before the days of mobile phones. Only then I realised how much I used the phone and how much the calls were costing!
There were other challenges that I faced, such as shopping and independently learning about how much to spend and about how to make savings. Today we are facing a recession, with food and energy prices going through the roof, and those skills on how to manage finance that I learnt will be very helpful.
I didn’t spend much on my wedding; nowadays they spend £30,000 plus. I made all my own suits; there were 42 in total! I don’t think I needed them, and actually ended up only wearing a few; I guess I just wanted to make different designs. Anyway, I am pleased they came to good use as I donated them to the amazing Bibi Prakash Kaur who runs an orphanage for abandoned girls in Jalandhar, Punjab called Unique Home for Girls.
I get a lot of pleasure out of giving them away. Actually, throughout my life, I have given away most of the things I have bought. I have come to realise material objects are not the most important thing in life; caring sharing and caring is much more important and rewarding. I sometimes think if we all committed ourselves to to acts of kindness, which could be simply offering a smile, through to providing material support, each day, we could transform the whole world.
As I approach my 60 birthday and my third age, I have no fear of ageing, and I feel blessed and contented with life. Life has not always been easy, and it has sometimes felt like a roller coaster ride. But I have always felt Guru Nanak’s presence and his teachings have helped me to navigate the many challenges I have faced in life. And the greatest lesson I have learnt is to become self empowered, by learning the gift of critical thinking and using our brains to solve our own problems.
Manjit Kaur, a UK-based therapist and counsellor, is a presenter of the 1 Show on Akaal Channel. She can be contacted via email at email@example.com
Living in the ‘real’ world: Some personal reflections (Asia Samachar, 5 April 2022)
ASIA SAMACHAR is an online newspaper for Sikhs / Punjabis in Southeast Asia and beyond.Facebook | WhatsApp +6017-335-1399 | Email: firstname.lastname@example.org | Twitter | Instagram | Obituary announcements, click here |