Growing old is a scary thought. Because, with age, our idiosyncrasies tend to concentrate and govern and dominate our lives. Our lives would start revolving around timely food intake, our bowel movements early in the morning or our need to compulsively gulp down sweet dishes when no one is looking. These are just personal idiosyncrasies Habits and compulsions to which we hold on, as these ritualistic behaviours help us build a feeling of security and safety and a feeling of some form of control over our dangerously loose and unpredictable personal environments.
We start our lifetime as infants, helpless and largely at the mercy of the forces around us. With rudimentarily developed sensory organs and very limited capacity to navigate the often complex and confusing rules of the world. We, the luckier of us, would have our caretakers guiding us, nurturing us, showing us the ways of the world and often protecting us from harsh, cruel and dangerous elements. The ones that are not so lucky, are exposed to these harsh elements and left to fend for themselves and learn very difficult lessons.
Slowly, we strengthen our physical condition, we start growing physically and mentally, developing our extra sensory faculties – developing mechanisms of responding to different life situations, besides creating new ones of our own. We’re a little more aware of the rules of the world by now. From here on, we’re on an ascent. We’re still climbing, growing, developing, becoming stronger, smarter, more aware. Things look good now. The helplessness of your childhood days don’t linger with you as much, as you see yourself (often forced by circumstances or other external pressures) make decisions and take control of your life; and others around you taking notice of your new-found authority. You realise that at this point of time, you’re solely responsible for the things that you’re capable of influencing and changing in your life. That is a lot of power. It can be a heady feeling that might create a lot of fear in some. Fear of that kind of responsibility and the need to bear up to the consequences of your actions. And sometimes, the actions of others.
As we reach the peak phase of our lives, we’re supposedly burdened with the maximum amount of responsibilities. We’re often carrying the “weight of the world” on our shoulders, but it wouldn’t seem that way to us, because in our heads, we’re still “young” and have enough to live, a lot more to experience. We reach that plateau where we’re functioning at the best of our capacity. Thriving. Reveling perhaps. And nurturing those that need to be nurtured. This can be a good time. Even the setbacks that we face in this phase of our lives, we could have the strength to survive them and get back on our feet to try again.
And then starts the slow decline. You feel age catching up with you. Your body doesn’t feel as strong as it used to be. You could do a lot more and still be fine, however, now you may be struggling with the things that used to be a commonplace activity or effortless at one point of time. Your metabolism slows down, you can’t digest all types of food and eat as much as you want without facing the terrible consequences. You feel giddy and tired sooner, you get slower, the creaks and pains start, you start regressing to the helplessness that was a part of your childhood, once again. The second childhood? Again, if you’re lucky enough or if you’ve been prescient enough, you would’ve planned for this phase of your life and you’ll have adequate care takers to guide you through life at this phase. The not so lucky ones or the unprepared ones, would face a fate similar to the unlucky ones that go through difficult first childhoods. These would be times when our compulsive obsessions, that might have peeked their heads fleetingly during transient moments of weakness in our “strongest” years, would be in full bloom.
This is a very simplistic account of the unfoldment of life. A lot of our “ idiosyncrasies” or compulsions are also inherited – through observation, genetically and continual exposure to similar environments that make us adapt such security inducing practices. We see our parents grow old. We can feel ourselves growing up, shoulder responsibilities that our parents used to take care of at one point of time. We see their body giving in, behavioural changes induced by limitations imposed by health and the beginnings of the now very obvious idiosyncrasies that could be easily ignored. “She never used to be like this before…”, “He was always calm during emergency situations…” we think to ourselves. We can see them struggle with climbing the stairs. We see that they need more efforts to lift a suitcase that used to be a piece of cake at one point of time. We reach out, for the suitcase in their hands, we slow down the pace of our walk to match theirs, we start shouldering responsibilities that were once exclusively their domain.
When we can see the process of aging in our own parents, we can’t help but wonder what sort of idiosyncrasies we might be creating for ourselves in the future. How might we be when we grow old? How much would we grate on the nerves of those around us? Would we be difficult and adamant or helpless and fearful of all that is happening to us? My mother and I were sitting in the car, when I had this realisation that when I grow old, I think I’ll be obsessively compulsive about keeping my environment around me in order. I know people my age that already suffer from such a condition – though unacknowledged to themselves, whereas the world around them is very well aware of it. So, maybe, our obsessive compulsions may not necessarily be age related, but may have something to do with our states of mind? We would resort to such ritualistic activities when we feel helpless and this strong need to control our environment as much as possible? All of these inheritances of ours may be our cumulative, subconscious, and repressed fears, unresolved anger, unacknowledged emotional trauma, because we have to be strong, we need to be someone’s pillar of support, somebody’s backbone, the very centre upon whom someone depends.
At what cost do we build our façade of strength? At what price, do we grow up too quickly and start shouldering responsibilities? For how long would we keep things pushed under the carpet, patiently wait through the rattle of the skeletons in the closet, before resuming regular routine? Until they grow into the Hydra’s heads – forever multiplying, generating and perpetuating - that needs to be exposed to the light of rational exploration, acknowledgement and resolution. One Herculean task that would be.
There are also those that choose to live with their inheritances. A constant companion in their tumultuous or waning lives (depending on their perspective). But it certainly would be a crutch. They have learned to accept that crutch in the most positive manner possible – after all their perspective of the crutch is something that they can control. They may look upon them affectionately and with a certain reverence. The home, the security that they can carry with them, wherever they go. They would even have the capacity to gently explain to others around them, as to their need for such crutches. Their inheritance. Something that they have learned, gained, nurtured, used and preserved through the lessons of life.