The Watershed


Author note:
Written in 1993  for a wellness conference sponsored  by The Gazette, Montreal.  It was one of ten winning submissions.


Many people aspire to a ripe old age, but when they reach it, they spend most of their efforts denying it. For others, age is so irrelevant that they do not even know how old they are. Some measure their lives not chronologically but in terms of achievements.

Nina Berberova was first published in her 80’s and she is now the talk of literary salons. During his brief life, Mozart found time to create a legacy of beauty for us to enjoy. Christ sacrificed his life at the age of 33 for us to learn the meaning of our own. Does age matter? Not really. Age is just a marker between a point called birth and another one called death in a continuum that is known as life. It stands to reason that living life fully is more important than measuring it.

Most people in the industrialized world live out their biblical three score and ten. Many in the Third World do not make it past childhood due to hunger, disease, war, the cruelty of the human species or the simple alienation of the modern world. Statistics vary.

I’m one of the lucky statistics. By turning fifty last year I more than beat the odds faced by the average Indian born in 1942, whose life expectancy was about 37. I’m now too old perhaps to change my career, not old enough to retire, the right age to become a grandmother and young enough to yearn for a partner of my own.

In fact, my daughters will be horrified to learn that I entered a contest in which winning would mean losing, because then everybody would know my real age. And considering that I look and feel younger, they will reason, why would I want to proclaim my age to the four winds? And why not? After all, why withhold my age from friend or lover when my banker, the government, my employer and a host of other strangers know it? I am as proud of my age today as I was when young and as I hope to be when truly old. Especially if I get to earn the title of lovely old lady, lovely as in full of love.

Age, of course, is a social construct as much as a fact of life. Aging well means wearing life like a warm and beautiful and useful garment and then shedding it lightly, when the time comes. My Indian father, who was born in a culture that values the elderly, died at eighty-two, his head cushioned on his hands folded as if in prayer, a picture of his family  under his pillow and a peaceful smile on his lips. I aspire to die like him but for that, I will have to live like him as well.

He showed me how youth and age can coexist in one body; how the body is the temple of the soul and therefore deserves respect; how it is necessary for mind, body and soul to work in harmony. Since he was already old when I was born I was aware of how briefly his light would shine on us, so one morning when I found him standing on his head, I chided him for endangering his health. His retort was that he had been doing yoga all his life and that it was the first time in mine that I had got up early enough to see him do it.

From him I also learnt that whereas the past informs your life, it is the future that provides it with inspiration At eighty he didn’t consider himself too old to add another language to the many he already spoke or to contemplate a perilous journey, even if it was only in his imagination.

Youth believes in the myth of immortality. Old age destroys that myth. At the watershed age of fifty I no longer believe in myths. My imagination is fired by the secrets that nature chooses to reveal to us and intrigued by those that the human soul tries, not always successfully, to withhold. And my heart is warmed by the love of friends and family. As for my soul, it awaits release without a sense of urgency.

As I look out my window at the frozen landscape, I smile at the certainty that come spring, the rose will bloom.

And if it does not, it is because it is time for the land to lie fallow.