The certainty, and the reality

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Old age – it is a place where everyone is heading, sooner or later, says the columnist. — Photo by RDNE Stock project / pexels.com

WHATSAPP, as a means of communication, is a real boon. Some of us from the ‘Class of 64’ in Sacred Heart School Sibu have been wanting to have a class reunion for many years, but to no avail.

It was very difficult to reach out to our old friends. Then boom, the boon of WhatsApp appeared and we were able to contact virtually everyone.

It was with a mixture of joy and poignancy as I stood at the foyer of the hotel welcoming these old mates. It had been nearly 60 years since I last saw most of them.

So there I was, greeting and shaking hands with a throng of white-haired gentlemen, alighting gingerly and cautiously from the vehicles.

Where were the spritely fresh young lads of our youths? Now, they’re generally all sporting grey and white tops.

When I looked at the mirror of the wall, I saw a white-haired man welcoming them – that was ME!

When I used the term ‘old mates’ earlier, I did not just mean ‘hello, long time no see’. I meant ‘old’ as in ‘old in years’.

Earlier, I mentioned that not the full class turned up. The reason is that they are no longer here – they have been promoted to the higher class above.

Perhaps at this point, I can deviate into a Chinese folk lore or myth. It is about the famous Monkey King (Sun Wu Kong).

He was a rebel and a righteous one. He dared to challenge the heavenly authorities for their unjust deeds.

Hey, corruption and cronyism are not something new and modern!

With his mighty magic cudgel, he prevailed. He then retired to his mountain kingdom, hoisting a huge banner declaring that he was ‘The Great Sage, Heaven’s Equal (Qi Tian Da Sheng)’, and assured that he had gained immortality.

However, during one of his afternoon naps, he was visited by the dreaded Bull Head and Horse Face celestial generals. Monkey King knew who they were – the emissaries of the God of the Netherworld.

Grasping his cudgel, he shouted angrily: “How dare you come to take me! Don’t you know that I am immortal?”

The two generals cowered in fear.

“We are sorry, Great Sage. Perhaps there is a clerical entry error in the book. It is best we accompany you to examine the Register.”

It seems that bureaucratic incompetency is not something new too!

So, they went and demanded that the Registrar show him the Registry of Death.

As he checked through the files, he found out that his lifespan was entered as 342 years.

In a fury, he threatened to smash up the place with his mighty cudgel. Knowing his power, the staff trembled in fear. Then he transformed his cudgel into a brush. He struck out the entry of 342 years and thus, he was classified as immortal.

None of us possess the magic cudgel that can be transformed into a brush for altering the entry of our lifespan. However, not a few men dream or fantasise that we can prolong our lives.

It is written that Qin Shi Huang, the first Emperor of China, declared that he wanted to establish a dynasty that would last a thousand years. He ordered alchemists to develop the elixir of immortality.

Well, he died at the age of 49.

In modern day, a few billionaires requested that their bodies be cryogenically frozen, only to be thawed when treatment for their ailments are available in the future.

So, we need to consciously accept the fact of the certainty of our mortality and the reality of ageing.

Recently, I joined an organisation called Sarawak Gerontology and Geriatric Society (SGGS). Firstly, because they are organising a conference entitled ‘Active Ageing: Mind Body and Spirit’ (scheduled for March 16 and 17, 2024).

I am sure this is in recognition of the ‘certainty and reality’. I also joined them because I considered this organisation as ‘future proof’.

Let me elaborate. Some years ago, perhaps 20 years ago, I was with a group of seniors at a party. There was an acquaintance, a lady of about 40-ish years old. People were having a good time, drinking and some dancing.

So, I asked her: “Come and join us.”

She replied haughtily: “No, I don’t want to join the LKK.”

LKK. Huh? What’s that? Then someone explained that LKK stands for ‘really, really old’ in Hokkien.

Some members of our group took umbrage at that perceived sneer and were about to respond in kind. Then a wiser head said: “It’s OK. She is about 40 plus and in time, she would have to join our group of LKK.”

It took me a while to let that sink in. That incident took place 20 years ago. Now, she must be in her 60s.

The qualifying age to join the Sarawak Gerontology and Geriatric Society (SGGS) is, I believe, 60 years old. It is a place where we are all heading, sooner or later.

So, I am much taken by the theme of their coming conference: ‘Active Ageing – Mind Body and Spirit’.

I will devote my next column on it in two weeks’ time.