It is time to stop and smell the roses

Looking at our 76 year old cover girl, I just want to shout out “YIPPEEEE”! For once we can stop skulking around and face the topic of ageing, straight on.

My skin crawls if, in some lull, someone blurts out a woman’s age. This is inevitably followed by a falsehood which goes like this: “I can’t believe it; I don’t believe you, but you only look 40.” The woman usually turns to her friends for moral support, as the talking fades around her. For one fleeting moment she wants the ground to swallow her up, and then the little sensible voice in her head reminds her who she is and how hard it was to become herself. The little crease lines around her eyes are memories of her looking into the sun as loved ones left the airport; another one is from the days she spent cheering her children on the sports field; and surely she’ll never forget the laughter she shared with her partner.

Don’t get me wrong, I do think that any compliment is golden. But, when people spout rubbish like: “age is only a number”, it makes the milk in my teacup curdle. Ageing is what it is, but no more. And it’s not a train smash.

I love it when the conversation turns to people as diverse as Maggie Smith, Miriam Makeba, Judi Dench and Mother Theresa to name but a few. We know their ages and yet these women are admired for who they are, before knowing their age. The clincher is that how we regard their age in terms of their experience and achievements and not as an attempt at ‘faux modesty’ for their looks. Whether or not we are aware of it, all of their well-known age-related features become beautiful in our eyes (wrinkles and all), because of their inner beauty.

But, still we are told that age is just a number (especially when the ridiculously dressed older man parades his trophy wife around). Truth is – it isn’t. Age is a collection of memories and achievements. The older people among us know the score. When the Facebook kids (I say this with my tongue in my cheek) ask whether we remember seven singles and the moon landing – we can. We have had the time to mould our perception of who we are, as we have aged. Our experiences have shaped us. We can see our problems through different eyes now – possibly because of the pesky multi-focals! We might not all be ready to climb Kilimanjaro, but we are happy to face the world. At this time in our lives, most of the things that society expects of us – are either completed, or will never happen. When we stop to smell the roses, many of us know that the smell could never be sweeter, because we can still remember the smell of changing nappies!

My mother, Lyn de Waal, is 72. In her youth, there were no company benefits and bank account overdrafts. When her father was 56 he had a heart attack, leaving him bedridden, and before he died my mom left school to get a job. When she divorced my father; we set off in a little BMW with a motorbike engine (packed to the rafters), it took us through Van Reenens Pass and through some cleansing snow. I will not bore you with the all jobs my mom had to take with her standard 8 education but my favourite one is her role as a go-go dancer!

Wow, she certainly knew how to make things happen. When my younger sister graduated, I think she decided it was her time to shine. She had put three kids through university.

The first thing she did was enroll in a creative writing course and how very proud we were, when her first article was published in FairLady magazine. She quickly moved on to her next challenge and her enthusiasm did not stop there. Dressmaking, making stained glass objects de art in the garden shed, producing cement pavement tiles in the cottage industry and upskilling a youngster along the way; learning to solder, making mosaics, running a B&B and finally becoming the conceptual event planner of a fundraiser to help an old age home, are all on her long list of achievements.

I am boasting. Not only about her; but also for all of those like her, who refuse to be contained, who will not be put in a corner. It isn’t the number, it is the spirit of ageing that we should applaud. When we look at this cover girl, and all of those like her, keep in mind that we all age eventually and it is a worthwhile challenge indeed.

Lyn de Waal


Rev. Doctor Gereth Edwards was a practicing plastic surgeon, co-founder of the Netcare Milpark Hospital - Breast Care Centre of Excellence and the Breast Health Foundation. He then refocused his life and qualified as a minister. He writes from both a scientific and humanities view.

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