This piece first appeared a year ago, a guest post for an American audience. It belongs to the Pensionista collection as a mini-manifesto and also as a basis for a later feature on the lockdown experience of 2020 – and the coronavirus outbreak still running its course.
Close the front door behind me, then turn on the lights and put the shopping away. Nothing will move in this house – not a chair or a spoon – unless at the touch of my hand. Nothing breathes but me – except for a few plants in pots and the occasional spider, because I’m one of millions of 70-somethings – here, there and everywhere – who lives, sleeps and eats alone, most of the time. Some of them get a pet, but I’m not wild about animals.
Home: somewhere towards the end of a long and winding road. A ‘significant other’ in bricks and mortar. A place perfect for the kind of self that can only shine unwitnessed, where you can honour the past and practise the stern discipline of staying hopeful. An equal relationship with another human being can have no substitute, but loving where life has brought you – and the special things you have placed within it – is still love….
I have a religious friend, a reliable ray of sunshine, who believes age is only a number and doesn’t matter because ‘we’re all children in the sight of God!’ Such serenity is hard to share, with so many ‘elderly’ adjectives in the air around us, like slow, dependent, repetitive. When someone asks me how old I am, my usual reply is, ‘older than I look!’
This is not vanity or denial – the date on the certificate is, after all, a fact – but rather a growing resistance to being put in a past-it pigeonhole, with a limiting label like pensioner round my neck.
And yet… It’s time to take heart. When so many social and spiritual boundaries blur and shift, new paths must appear: new modes of being a person old in some ways, young in others.
Not everyone’s born to be bold and take to the stage or the street in protest or campaign, but you can be a quiet rebel with a cause. Given the key blessings – a few people who care about you, fair health and a decent income, you can break free and age in your own way, armed with another gift. The one found somewhere along the road: a personal power to shape what happens next. Soft and diffusive it may be, but it’s still power….
Each to his or her own style. I’m fond of wearing something bright and beautiful, to colour the mood and enhance my visibility in the world. Scarves are ideal; they have multiple identities, too – comfort blanket, siren call, flag of independence! Other steps – harder to take, it’s true – can have a ripple effect far and wide, even make a wave or two. Like saying ‘no’ to a younger or stiffer person expecting a ‘yes’ or the other way around.
I wake up in a warm house. Have no rebellious plans for the day, so think I’ll stay at home, do the laundry, make a list, water the plants, maybe phone the radiant friend for a chat. The fridge is full enough and the diary’s empty till tomorrow, so there’s no need to go out, till suddenly I must. It’s that very emptiness, that openness, that draws me to the front door, which opens again – as if by itself – into the cool adventure of an English spring.