If Paul McCartney wondered how it would look like to be 64, over the last few months, and for the first time in my life, I started thinking about that point in life where one tends to look backward rather than forward. When both your body and mind have become the bearers of your past; when wrinkles compile all of your stories. The question my favorite Beatle asked remains the same, though: Will you still need me, will you still feed me…?
It started with the Corona crisis, really. I didn’t have any epiphany before. Not when I turned 30, not when my closest friends started to get married and have children. Of course, I had this turning-30-identity-crisis, when you start comparing yourself to others and feel society’s pressure on your shoulders (Get married! Get a bakfiets*! Get a labrador!). But I wasn’t thinking of time passing by. Maybe I didn’t ‘feel’ like being in my early thirties. Forever young.
THE OLD MAN IN UP
And then, the lockdown happened. Being isolated, with very limited social contacts, and not being able to visit my grandma, made me think of the suffering older people were (still are) going through. In most countries, people owe them the most profound respect. They are the ancestors, the ones who hold the truths, the guardians of traditions. In Western Europe, they have become second-class citizens – even though the media are finally shaking up our vision of old people with books and award-winning series such as Grace and Frankie. I realized how inspiring they are. I even recently wrote a short story on how my grandma took the plane for the first time of her life at 80. I grew attached to many of these older characters. The wise (Dumbledore), the traditional (Abuela in Jane the Virgin), the gruff (Carl in Up, Ferdinand in French novel Mémé dans les orties)… and many more.
I couldn’t help but wonder what their life had looked liked. What obstacles they must have faced, what they had left behind, what they would always remember.
DANCING WITH THE STARS
The lockdown was over and I had lost my job. I went to France to finally see my parents, and enjoy quality time with them. There were some reminders of the past, I met a friend’s one-year-old son, I read a book taking place in a retirement house, and time seemed to stretch smoothly like it sometimes does on summer days. At some point, we were in a small village on a hot July day. Lanterns had been hung in trees, and people were enjoying a typical guinguette, with fresh beverages and music. Although dancing wasn’t allowed due to Corona, a few silhouettes were moving enthusiastically to the music. They were not more than ten and all between 70 and 80 years-old. Maybe they had nothing to lose, Corona or not. There was something deeply poignant about how happy they seemed. I couldn’t help but wonder what their life had looked liked. What obstacles they must have faced, what they had left behind, what they would always remember. At this moment, I finally measured that time was, indeed, passing by. And then once you’re 80, you look back, and the only things you want to remember are the things that really matter.
IN THE END
The question popped out again a few weeks after these holidays in France. It was my first session with a coach, and she was explaining to me how we would first work on what I valued as a person, the qualities I had developed in my childhood, and finally, what would matter most to me at the age of 80. And it seemed all of a sudden so obvious. I wouldn’t remember how I lost my job during an international pandemic. I’d remember how much I missed my family back then. How technology helped me stay in touch with my dearest friends. How supportive they all were. In the end, it’s the people I would remember.
A STEP BACK
It was an eye-opener, even though it seems like 32 years is a long time to have such a revelation. But it helped me step back from what I was going through these last years in my professional life. I was putting my personal life on hold for more than two years because of job insecurity. But what for? Corona was proof that nothing could be planned anyways. At 80, I don’t want to remember how I was anxious about having to pay my rent, or how worried I was about the next job. I want to remember the ones who were there when it happened.
And I want to remember the old men and women dancing under the trees, on a hot summer day.
*Literally ‘box-bike’, a typical family bike largely used by young parents in the Netherlands.