The joy of old age 1



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Dr Oliver Sacks passed away in August last year, a highly respected neurologist, naturalist and author. Most of us would know him from the film ‘Awakenings’, which was based on his book. Robin Williams played Dr Sacks in a wonderfully sympathetic portrayal.

Two years before Dr Sacks died he wrote an opinion piece for the New York Times entitled The Joy of Old Age. (No Kidding). It was just before his 80th birthday.

I really like this piece of writing. Some highlights for me – though I’m only 70!

  • ‘Eighty! I can hardly believe it. I often feel that life is about to begin, only to realize it is almost over.’
  • ‘I am sorry I have wasted (and still waste) so much time; I am sorry to be as agonizingly shy at 80 as I was at 20; I am sorry that I speak no languages but my mother tongue and that I have not traveled or experienced other cultures as widely as I should have done.’
  • ‘My father, who lived to 94, often said that the 80s had been one of the most enjoyable decades of his life. He felt, as I begin to feel, not a shrinking but an enlargement of mental life and perspective.’
  • ‘One has had a long experience of life, not only one’s own life, but others’, too.’
  • ‘One has seen triumphs and tragedies, booms and busts, revolutions and wars, great achievements and deep ambiguities, too.’
  • ‘One has seen grand theories rise, only to be toppled by stubborn facts.’
  • ‘At 80, one can take a long view and have a vivid, lived sense of history not possible at an earlier age. I can imagine, feel in my bones, what a century is like, which I could not do when I was 40 or 60. I do not think of old age as an ever grimmer time that one must somehow endure and make the best of, but as a time of leisure and freedom… free to explore whatever I wish, and to bind the thoughts and feelings of a lifetime together.’

The article finished with these words: ‘I am looking forward to being 80’. Fingers crossed for good health mentally and physically, I agree!

How about you? Have you embraced the ageing process?

Fran Goodey

Frances Goodey is the mother of four daughters and the grandmother of two primary school age boys. With six brothers and two sisters, she was raised in Sydney and later lived and worked in Papua New Guinea, New Zealand and Brisbane. She is an avid reader and has had some small success with children's stories being published in New Zealand and Australia. Both she and her husband are retired, and her daughters live in Brisbane, Toowoomba, Sydney and Frankfurt.

  1. This term “old” drives me nuts when it refers to people. Sounds like a car or volcano….or our planet which, indeed IS old. To split hairs, I reckon we should refer to elderly citizens as “olDER” people. The joy of old age sounds much better as The Joy of Older Age….surely?

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