What is it about my grey hair, wrinkles, stoop and bi-focals that prod friends from all over to offer me copies of “The Senility Prayer”?
From a Filipina secretary in my former office – the Food and Agriculture Organization in Bangkok – comes this “gem”.
“Grant me, Lord the senility to forget the people I never liked anyway, in the good fortune to run into the ones I do — and the eyesight to tell the difference”.
Sure, I’m now in the youth of my senility. Like Gloria Macapagal Arroyo with her neck brace, we’re learning what the old Pampango proverb means: “Count your age by the number of your friends, not by the years?
So, is that why an economist friend in Kuala Lumpur sent me a DVD of Julie Andrews. On her 69th birthday, she sang this at Manhattan’s Radio City Music Hall to the tune of “Sound of Music.”
“Cadillacs and cataracts, hearing aids and glasses,/ Polident and Fixodent and false teeth in glasses,/ Pacemakers, golf carts and porches with swings, /These are a few of my favorite things,” Ms. Andrew sang to sounding ovation.
“When the eyes grow dim, / When the bones creak/When the knees go bad/I simply remember my favorite things/And then I don’t feel so bad.”
Like Ms. Andrews, I’d have felt better if my friend did not remind me: You saw the original play on Broadway in 1962. Ah! But that was when we didn’t have “thin bones and fractures and hair that is thinnin’/And w e won’t mention our short shrunken frames.”
Eventually, we’re told that we will reach a point “when you stop lying about your age and start bragging about it.”
So, when does that happen?
That’s when “when former classmates are so gray, wrinkled and bald, they don’t recognize you.”
“Some people try to turn back their odometers,” a retired editor in Indonesia e-mailed. “Not me, I want people to know “why” I look this way. I’ve traveled a long way and some of the roads weren’t paved.”
But my wife agrees that out memories are not so sharp anymore. From a niece in California, she got this one last week:
Two elderly ladies, played cards for years and shared all kinds of activities for decades. “Now, don’t get mad at me,” she confessed. “I know we’ve been friends for a long time: I’ve thought and thought, but I can’t remember your name.”
The otherlady glared at her for three minutes without a word. Then, she asked: “How soon do you need to know?”
Earlier, the same two elderly women were lunching at a Chinese dimsum restaurant. Corazon noticed something funny about Elisa’s ear and she whispered. “Eli, did you know you’ve got a suppository in your left ear?”
“I have a suppository?,” Elisa asked. She yanked it out and stared at the thing as if seeing it for the first time. Then she said, “Cora – I’m glad you saw this thing. Now I know where my hearing aid is.”
Quoting George Carlin, the niece said: “The only time when we like to get old is when we’re kids? If you’re less than 10 years old, you’ll think in fractions.”
“How old are you?” “I’m four and a half!” You’re never thirty-six and a half. You’re four and a half, going on five! That’s the key.
In your teens, now they can’t hold you back. You jump to the next number. And then, you become 21. Even the words sound like a ceremony.
But you turn 30 and what happened here? What’s wrong? What’s changed? You become 21, you turn 30, then you’re pushing 40.
Brakes. It’s all slipping away. Before you know it, you reach 50 and your dreams are gone. But wait!!! You make it to 60.
And you built so much speed that you hit 70! After that it’s a day-by-day thing; you hit Wednesday! “You get into your 80s and every day is a complete cycle; you hit lunch; you turn 4:30; you reach bedtime.
Then a strange thing happens. If you make it over 100, you become a little kid again. “I’m 100 and a half!”
Of course, these well-meaning friends have long prescriptions. A friend in Miami emailed this list for daily action.
“Throw out nonessential numbers. This includes age, weight and height. Let the doctors worry about them. That is why you pay them. Keep only cheerful friends. The grouches pull you down.”
“Keep learning. Learn more about the computer, crafts, gardening, whatever. Never let the brain idle. “An idle mind is the devil’s workshop.” And the devil’s name is Alzheimer’s.
“Enjoy the simple things. Laugh often, long and loud. Laugh until you gasp for breath. The tears happen. Endure, grieve, and move on.”
The only person who is with us our entire life, is ourselves. Be alive while you are alive. Surround yourself with what you love, whether it’s family, pets, keepsakes, music, plants, hobbies, whatever. Your home is your refuge.
Cherish your health: If it is good, preserve it. If it is unstable, improve it. If it is beyond what you can improve, get help. Don’t take guilt trips. Take a trip to the mall, even to the next country; to a foreign country but not where the guilt is.
Tell the people you love that you love them, at every opportunity. Life is not measured by the number of breaths we take, but by the moments that take our breath away.
“I refuse to admit that I am 52,” Lady Astor once said, “although that makes my sons illegitimate.”