Last week we visited a gorgeous pub, doubling as a village shop, in a tiny village in Hampshire. The food was excellent, the atmosphere perfect, the fire warm. The waitresses were very good and very young. Between mouthfuls of beef and mushroom pie (in red wine sauce – yum), I stared at them furtively. They were so thin, they moved at such speed, they had such long legs, they stood for hours behind the bar and serving at tables and didn’t seem tired. It just…fascinated me.
Now before you get the hump because you’re older than me and you’re thinking grumpily, For goodness sake Debs! remember, it’s all relative. I shared a mirror in a Ladies recently with a twenty-something who was complaining to her friend about her grey hairs and ‘wrinkles’. Did I want to stab her with my pointy comb and shout “DON’T BE RIDICULOUS!”? Of course I did. But to her, these were real signs of ageing, perhaps something shed’d never thought about before. So, instead, I combed my fringe over my wrinkles and smiled at her sympathetically. She froze. I smiled at the mirror instead. There was spinach in my teeth.
Young people fascinate me – their boundless energy, their shiny hair, the way their teeth have no gaps for random food parcels. And their skin! It’s just so smooth and elastic. Sometimes I want to reach out and touch it. (Obviously I don’t. That would be weird). Also they’re often funny and witty because their brains are younger.There is just something so energising about being with them. Was I once like that?
‘Age is just a number. You’re as old as you feel.’ These are some of the things people say, don’t they, to feel better about growing older. And to a certain extent they are true. I suppose they are trying to say that whatever your body does – sags, aches, changes shape – your spirit doesn’t have to. Do you ever have that thing where you’re walking down a road and suddenly you get an unexplained weakness? So you really want to limp because you have this random jabbing pain but you don’t want anyone to think there’s anything wrong with you. So you keep walking normally, waving at your neighbour and smiling manically, until you’re around the corner. Then you double up in pain, planning your funeral, when just as suddenly, it goes. If you do that and have a good laugh about it after, you’re young where it counts.
There are older people in my life too, two of whom I help care for. Sometimes I look at them sitting in their chairs, or being winched into a wheelchair, or waiting for us to serve them food. And I think, ‘How can you bear it? How can you stand being so dependent on others, so passive?’ It’s like being a visitor in your own life.
I have this theory – if we refuse to learn life’s lessons when we’re young, they’ll be forced on us when we’re older. The people I care for are patient and grateful. They enjoy going out and sharing a joke and rolling their eyes at each other (well, one of them does). We took them to the end of the road to watch the Bonfire Procession. They oohed and aahed and ate chips, laughing when we spilled ketchup. I think they learned their lessons well.
Thankfully, God – who is the oldest young, and youngest old person I’ve ever met – brings a range of kind, wise, funny spirits into my life wrapped up in all kinds of skin. Some of my favourite people are quite a bit older and younger than me. The best line manager I ever had was almost thirty years my junior. One of the people who makes me laugh most is 88. I need them. I need them all. The most precious things in my life, and probably in yours, are gifts in skin. Make sure they know…
God keep me curious and hopeful and trusting and kind. I would like to be a bit wiser and to listen to my life. Thank you for the people who bring so much to me especially those wrapped in surprise parcels – skin that has nothing to do with their insides.
Also, please help me to stop staring at young people. I don’t think they like it.