The recent death of Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh, is still fresh in our collective memory. He was the husband of Queen Elizabeth II of England for more than 73 years, and died on 9 April. The news took over the pages of all the media, which gave us copious reports of the deceased over the course of his 99 years of life. It made me wonder how his beautiful face of yesteryear, with the passage of time, had become practically unrecognisable. His features showed a very different image from when he was young, handsome and sporty.
Today it is common for many, on seeing this natural evolution in the mirror, to look at themselves with horror and desperately reach for the plastic surgeon’s scalpel (if they can afford it), the nearest dietician, or the recommendations of make-up artists who act as true gurus with their magical creams and ointments. The illusion of the protagonist of Oscar Wilde’s famous novel The Picture of Dorian Gray is thus repeated. That beautiful young man, obsessed by the threat that he would lose all his charm as he grew older, accepted the incredible spell of transferring his incurable physical decline to his portrait and not to his face.
Faced with this foolish and frustrating pretension, I think it is preferable to accept the unstoppable passage of time with elegant realism and a little humour. There is no magic that will definitively prevent our gradual deterioration. That does not mean neglecting ourselves, but bracketing the myth of eternal youth.
It is true that life expectancy today is significantly longer than it used to be. Many sexagenarians have two decades or more of “useful life” ahead of them, which can be filled with meaning or become a chamber of torment.
There is a direct link between decline and our physical, mental and spiritual attitudes. A passive, sedentary life accelerates wear and tear. Lack of movement, poor social interaction or spiritual neglect cause them to languish. Add to this loneliness and the process of decline accelerates. Spending the day with no other stimulus than the television or mobile phone, no visitors and no spiritual nurturing, means that many people are deprived of any motivation to live their evening with meaning and integrity.
The evidence is clear: It is not the wrinkles or the patina of time that count, but the ideals that one has cultivated since youth. Then they can blossom, like the flowers of the night-blooming flower that emanate their most intense perfume in the evening, when the day is moving towards nightfall. The saddest thing about old age is not the end of joy, but the end of hope.
Juan Carlos cmf
(PHOTO: Matthew Bennett)