I’ve always been a people-watcher. There’s something endlessly fascinating in seeing the diversity amongst those around me, and wondering about their individual stories. I think that’s part of the make-up of those who write – to be an observer and creator of characters.
In my younger years I would notice older people, some of whom appeared as though they had ceased to enjoy life a long time ago and were just counting off the rest of their days.
But then there were those who appeared to be sending a blatant message that there was no chance they’d be ‘going gentle into that goodnight’ (Dylan Thomas.) If I saw an elderly woman in bright or funky clothing, or a grey-haired man burning around in a red sports car, I was guilty of thinking that they must have gone a little eccentric. I swore that, as I aged, I would do so with quiet dignity. I pictured myself as the wise old grandmother in her pearls and cardigan, dishing out sensible advice to the young and reading the classics to my grandchildren.
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But guess what? I’m growing older and now I get it. As sad as it is, I get why some people seem to reach a point where they begin to disengage with life. I know people that have quietly resigned themselves to the onset of age and the challenges that go along with it. And yet, on the other hand, I know a greater number of older people who see the ‘third age’ as a new beginning – a time to emerge from the responsibilities and expectations of the previous decades and begin to explore other possibilities.
I read stories of people in their sixties, seventies, eighties and beyond who are shucking off the old image of how senior citizens should look, act and dress. It becomes a time of self-indulgence, exploration and learning. For many, part of that exploration is to let go of the opinions of others, to ignore the eye-rolling and often ridiculing attitudes of those who haven’t been there and just embrace their final years with exuberance.
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I get it now. I get wanting to wear the inappropriate shoes or the bright orange coat, drive the impractical car or get that controversial tattoo. We can still be the wise elder, but with hot-pink lipstick – Why not? I’d much rather be old than dead and I’d rather be seen as slightly eccentric than not be seen at all.
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So if you happen to be a senior who has emerged from the somewhat restrictive cocoon of your youth and middle-age as a brightly-coloured butterfly, I say bravo to you! I applaud you, I admire you and I want to be you when I grow up.