Tag Archives: age

Lessons from Old Cats

For a while now, I’ve been taking in old cats – one at a time. Old cats are not easily homed – they come with short life expectancies, likelihood of expensive vets bills, and distress. If your old cat has spent its life with one family or human, the loss of them will likely grieve them. An old cat who has been rescued will likely have been through some shit and may have issues. Old cats, much like old dogs are slow to learn new tricks.

There can be no messing about when taking in an old cat. You know they might only have a year or two with you. So you have to be willing to love them as wholeheartedly as you would a young cat who might be with you a decade or more. You have to love from a basis of knowing you will lose them and that the more you love them the more that will hurt. But, they need you, and they need to be cared for and they need it to be ok that they will shortly break your heart.

They teach patience and compassion. They teach it as their minds and bodies fail. They teach it with their incontinence, their deterioration, their fragility and vulnerability. They teach you to think about what your own body might be like as it ages, and they help you face up to that.

Old cats brings lessons in ruthless pragmatism. They are going to die, sooner rather than later. There is nowhere to hide from this. You will have to make decisions about when to go to the vet, and when to let go and have nature take its course. They cannot live forever. They cannot always be fixed. They teach a person how to examine their own selfish urges to hang on, and how to think better about suffering and quality of life.

They teach acceptance, and trust. They bring you their fragile bodies, and their purrs, and their need for care. The ones who have been mistreated may show you their fear and you get to work with that and maybe win them round and perhaps you can teach them that the world isn’t such a terrible place after all. And whatever life has done to this point, a few good years, or even just a few good days, are still well worth having.


Questions of aging

Western culture frames aging as a bad thing, and one that we must tackle through the purchase and use of products. Buying stuff to look younger means using material we wouldn’t have needed if we’d been ok about aging in the first place. Make-up, hair dye, skin products, botox and I have no idea what else – but it all clearly has a carbon footprint, creates waste materials and reduces our confidence in ourselves.

It would be better for the planet if we could just get on with getting older and not feel like we have to disguise that totally natural process. If we respected age, then signs of aging would be no issue at all.

One of the issues here is that aging can reflect all sorts of things about our lives and personalities. How your skin ages will be different if you’ve spent a lot of time in the sun, or haven’t. Smoking affects how we age, so does diet. How much fat you carry affects how lines show in your face. Habitual expressions settle into our skin.

It would be better, I think, if we were all less worried about the fact that we age, and more concerned about how we age. The face of a person who has lived well, and richly, and who looks like their body has been lived in, should be something to enjoy and celebrate. The way our lives mark us should be something to take pride in, not feel reduced by. It’s good to have character and be distinctive, and there is far less to be said in favour of looking like a Ken or Barbie doll. We need to give ourselves permission to be real mammals, not plastic toys.

For some people of course, that aging process doesn’t go so well because of what appears in their faces. I know several people who I don’t much like, whose middle aged faces are starting to show those sneering, unkind expressions that are part of who they are. The reasons I don’t like them are, increasingly written all over them. There’s a certain amount of justice in this. The only way to avoid aging in this way is to not go round covered in unkind facial expressions.

Equally, people I know who tend towards kindness, laughter, compassion, and concern are clearly aging with faces that show these things. It doesn’t matter how old and wrinkly they get, their faces will be an expression of the kinds of people they are, and I will always find that lovely to look at.

For some of us, the lines in our faces will be caused by pain and grief, by loss and suffering. I suspect the face I’ll be taking into my latter years (assuming I get there) is going to look worried.

And for some of us, aging won’t be a thing. Accident, illness or violence will account for us before we have chance to get old. It’s worth remembering that getting to grow old is a blessing not everyone experiences. Most of us would prefer whatever state our faces wind up in, to no face at all. If our culture wasn’t so inclined to death-denial, we might be able to talk about this more, and view aging from a different perspective.

 


Being forty

Oddly enough, I find on the morning of my fortieth birthday that I feel largely unchanged from the previous day. As a child I believed that there was some magic shift that turned a person into a proper adult. Some clinging residue of the belief stayed with me, I confess, but sixteen wasn’t it, and eighteen did not rewire my brain, and twenty one brought no revelations. At forty, I notice that no innate adulating capacity seems to have hatched within me. At this point I can afford to admit to myself that it never will, and that paperwork, bureaucracy, and tedious details are always going to be an arse.

When I started writing and talking about Druidry and Paganism – in my late twenties – I tended to be vague about my age for fear of not being taking seriously. It’s one of the good things about being a Druid, I think – the possibilities that age may deliver gravitas and wisdom rather than irrelevance. This may well be like the childhood thing of imagining that adulthood will just turn up. Perhaps I’ll be here at fifty admitting that the wisdom and gravitas thing was just as silly. In the meantime, it’s a nice thought!

In writing, much as in Druid work, age is more of an advantage than not. Very few authors make it under the age of forty, so I’ve everything still to play for. A few more grey hairs won’t set me back at all. Although to be fair, I don’t have that many grey hairs, I’m not dyeing my hair and don’t intend to and I still don’t have many lines in my face. I have no idea how this came to be and can only assume there’s a really good painting of me stashed in someone’s attic, taking all the damage… Yet at the same time I’ve been showing peri-menopausal symptoms for about a year now, so the call of the crone is very much on me.

I got in early with the whole midlife crisis thing, having spent the last few years revisiting many of the things that I was interested in as a teen, rebuilding a sense of self. I had a fantastic party on Saturday night to celebrate this large, round birthday number, and came to the conclusion that more of that – more dancing like a crazy thing in the company of lovely people, with fantastic live music and yummy beer is the form any further midlife crisis flashes should take. With, or without hot flushes.

Perhaps I have reached the magic age of not caring what anyone else thinks, not needing to be acceptable, not aspiring to meet other people’s standards. Many aspects of my life have been becoming clearer and simpler for me, and I like how that feels. I have some sense of where I want to be going and a lot of certainty about who I want as travelling companions. The rest I can no doubt make up as I go along.