Wednesday, October 5, 2016
My window on the world
By Dr Nihal D Amerasekera
Que Sera Sera - Whatever will be will be. Since Doris Day sang this song in the Alfred Hitchcock film of 1956 ”The Man who knew too much” its poignant lyrics have stayed with us for its glaring honesty of the uncertainties of life.
At the very outset I must make it clear that these are not the notes of a sad and depressive septuagenarian but of a happy, pragmatic retired professional enjoying life to the full. Destiny has been kind to me so far and I have had a wonderful life.
This has been a tough year for me and the family. After my reprieve from the ‘death sentence’ a brand new life has unfolded. It is one of acceptance that this will be a ride into the sunset with ups and downs. As a septuagenarian I have no career, the children have left home. The purpose in life is to enjoy everyday as it comes. Seeing the children prosper in their careers and life are blissful pleasures beyond measure. Being a grandparent is a delightful experience. We now live in a world that adores youth and all its pleasures but there is no shame in being old. Everyone can have a sense of purpose.
Although many feel lost and depressed at the mere thought of retirement, it is certainly not the end of life but the beginning of a new era. There are many of us “oldies” around than ever before who are incredibly determined to make the best of the new life. With our wisdom we are a benefit and not a burden to society. These are my twilight years and I am determined to make the best of it.
Longevity with good mental and physical health is a gift that has to be earned. Although there are never any guarantees the world is full of advice on how to do it. The internet is a repository of such information. Despite all that there comes a time for each for one of us to call it a day.
There are many things one can give up. I have given up ambition, winning the argument, rivalry and stress. Just allow someone else to be the winner. I put fewer demands on myself these days. I hate gardening and have moved into a flat with no garden. Living next to Regent’s Park it is my 395 acre garden which is beautifully landscaped and managed by a fine team of horticulturalists. There are benches to sit and enjoy the vibrant colours and the exquisite scent of the many different types of flowers. It is indeed a delightful and sublime experience to sit in the rose garden on a warm summers day. The many trees and shrubs are a paradise for migrating birds that fly south for the winter sun.
There are many things I have wanted to do and didn’t have the time. Well now is the time for it. This ranges from books to read and places to visit. As the world has got smaller with easier and cheaper travel there is the ability to go to the far corners of the earth. I want to experience the wonders of nature and see the art galleries and the museums. I started on this on my retirement and grateful I was able to do so much so far. Now I realise that with every passing year there is a certain loss of energy which makes travel and all it entails that much harder.
You know you’re getting old when the candles cost more than the cake.
Surprisingly some inner wisdom has allowed me to accept that I am a senior citizen now. Silver hair and furrows on my face have its benefits. I am offered a seat in public transport. I don’t blush anymore before accepting such kind offers. I get a transport pass to travel free on the underground, busses and trains. Having given up my cars this is a Godsend. My personal vehicle would be a burden now as parking is at a premium in the city. I live within ten minutes walk from the essential amenities
Nostalgia is an overwhelming emotion. The volume of archived memories increase with age as is the desire to reach them. When awake at night there are always the inescapable journeys to the past. The happy times spent with my parents and extended family are priceless. Those special joys of my schooldays bring such great pleasure. Medical School had its unique brand of youthful fun and humour despite the hard grind. Building a career and bringing up a family brought its own enjoyment and heartaches. Delving into the past can also bring sadness, bitterness and grief. Regret is the demon you don’t want to carry with you into the future.
We all have stories of breaking windows playing soft ball cricket in the garden. The love of cricket is for life. It is hard to put into words the joy it brings at any age. My strictly limited talent for playing meant I would be forever a spectator. As I now watch cricket at Lords or the Oval I reflect on my years watching school cricket under those spreading trees in old Ceylon from Campbell Park to Reid Avenue and the Galle Esplanade to Asgiriya. For the visiting teams the breezy wicket at Mt Lavinia was a batsmens’ graveyard.
Although more and more people are aware of the prerequisites to live longer and healthier
finding a good doctor is crucial. They are rare as gold dust. The doctor is my physician and confidante who will guide me through life’s health issues by preventing the avoidable and treating the possible. There are also the inevitable ‘running repairs’ and the ubiquitous “athey paye rudhawa”. The Annual check-ups although a bind are essential to keep the human engine in good shape. We are what we eat and have to do so sensibly.
Since Roman times we have known the importance of exercise – “Men sana incorpore sano - a healthy mind in a healthy body". A brisk walk for 30 minutes for at least 5 days a week is one that is widely recommended. Losing one’s balance is a common problem of ageing for which there are special but simple exercises.
We all know that the brain needs exercise to keep dementia at bay. I stepped on life’s treadmill at the GCE O’Levels and stepped off on my retirement. In the intervening years the neurones and transmitters were buzzing non-stop retaining, recalling, analysing and using information. Now life is much calmer. I like to do my daily Sudoku and maintain the school website. This is a task that requires thought and tact both of which are taxing.
By now we all have realised happiness can be an elusive dream. Wealth, power and status may help to achieve it but often with limited success. For many it is just a mirage. In the troubled world we live in there are many who need our care. Helping the less fortunate, poor and the disabled will bring lasting happiness. There is much work available in the voluntary sector to help the sick and the suffering.
There is no better time to make peace if you have rifts in the family. It is easier than you think and time is running out. Once this is done the climate at family gatherings improves tremendously. Joining a group, community centre or a club is useful to meet people of a similar age and outlook. Good friends are the greatest source of pleasure and support in later years. I feel much happier in some ways than in my younger days. Now that I don’t see the need to prove myself. I am able to control my emotions so much better and am less prone to anger even when others say things that are upsetting.
Reading newspapers from home online is my daily ritual. Still it gives me a shock and a pang to read the names of friends and relatives in the obituaries. Then a plethora of memories cloud my mind bringing sorrow and grief. I must accept this will be the pattern in the months and years to come. The sooner I acknowledge this, easier my life will become.
It is a fact of life that my wife or I will depart this world first leaving the other a life full of memories together and to suffer the intense grief of this great loss. No one can prepare adequately for this except by being aware. Then, in our home every room will tell a story and every picture and piece of furniture will be laden with memories. If at all it will be our children and grandchildren who can soften the blow. Time as they say is a great healer.
As someone clever said “Death is hereditary”. I have accepted and trained my mind that none of us are here forever. Our turn will come to depart this world. From Biblical times humans have been taught of heaven and hell. I was immensely comforted by a graffiti on a London wall “HELL IS EMPTY, ALL THE DEMONS ARE HERE ON EARTH”. Nevertheless it is important to lead a good and useful life. For this, one doesn’t need a religion but if you have one hold on to it. It is wonderful to have someone superior to help and guide you when times are hard. Amazingly I do not fear the end but the way I will exit the world concerns me at times. The dream is to to have a quick and painless conclusion to life. We have no control over many things in life and death. Finally, we are all at the mercy of the awesome force of destiny.
I will end as I started with the fine lyrics of yet another poignant Doris Day song which was a hit in 1950 and took the world by storm
Enjoy yourself, it's later than you think
Enjoy yourself, while you're still in the pink
The years go by, as quickly as you wink
Enjoy yourself, enjoy yourself, it's later than you think