Active ageing: The mind, the body, the spirit


The primary sentiment of Welsh poet Dylan Thomas’ ‘Do Not Go Gentle Into That Good Night’, is that life is precious and should be fought for at every turn.

SOMETIME ago I came across a song entitled ‘Don’t let the old man in’ by American singer-songwriter and actor Toby Keith. I was intrigued by the title, and did a search.

Apparently, the song was inspired by a conversation that the artist had with Clint Eastwood in May 2017.

Eastwood, the Oscar-winning director, mentioned that he was leaving the next day for a three-month shoot to make a movie called ‘The Mule’.

He was 87 years old then.

The astonished Keith asked: “How do you do it, man?”

Eastwood said cryptically: “I just don’t let the old man in.”

This inspired Keith to write the award-winning poignant ballad:
“Don’t let the old man in …Though he is knocking at the door…”

Indeed sometimes, as we age, we can feel the somewhat debilitating impact physically and sometimes, even on our mind and spirit, as we surrender to the prospect of the ‘old man’ kicking the door down. This can be depressing for the person concerned, his family and friends.

Jacob was a relative. Though we reside in different countries, his family and ours were quite close. We used to visit him regularly for years.

In our younger days, he was a sports enthusiast and knowing my interest, he used to regale me with the heroics of his national sports icons. Sometimes, he even suggested taking me to their national basketball league games, a favourite sport in his country.

As the song suggests, ‘the old man’ is relentless. In time, he will kick the door down.

However, as he aged, Jacob’s spirit dimmed. It seems that he had given up the ghost.

Meeting up with him was no fun. He used to preface with the opening remark: “Aya, Dunstan, we are getting old.”

Though he still had his family with him, he just quietly faded away: surrendered to the persistence of the ‘old man’, before the latter actually kicked the door down.

Jacob had passed on physically a few years ago, but unfortunately, it seems that he had let the ‘old man’ in before his time. The last few years of his life on this earth was rather depressing.

How different it was from the call by the Welsh poet, Dylan Thomas, as he wrote:

“Do not go gentle into that good night,
“Old age should burn and rave at close of day;
“Rage, rage against the dying of the light.”

The primary sentiment of Dylan Thomas is that life is precious and should be fought for at every turn. He offers insight into how to face death with dignity and ferocity rather than resignation, believing that people should ‘burn and rave’ as they approach death, that they should ‘rage against the dying of the light’.

I am much motivated by Thomas. What he put elegantly I would phrase it crudely and harshly: “Don’t die before you die.”

In my previous column I related how some of us seniors were slighted by an unkind joke from a somewhat young lady when she said: “I don’t want to join a bunch of LKK.”

It was a pejorative remark. LKK (Lau Kok Kok) is a Chinese (Hokkien) term that can be loosely translated as ‘very, very old’. The double emphasis of ‘very’ was what upset us.

It might have been hurtful, but it was motivating as well. Yes, we might be ‘Lau Kok’, but not “Lau Kok Kok.

There is life yet, the old dogs, and we intend on living the life.

I am rather tickled by the exchange between Snoopy and Charlie Brown in the cartoon strip ‘Peanuts’:

Charlie Brown: ‘We only live once’, implying that we should live our lives to the full.

Snoopy bettered it when he said: “No, we only die once, but we should live every day.”

Recently, I joined the Sarawak Gerontology and Geriatrics Society (SGGS), a bunch of LKs. I am much impressed and motivated by their enthusiasm and dynamism. They organise gatherings and dances, though somewhat slower.

They are not quite ‘Michael Jacksons’ physically, but perhaps in their minds. they think they are.

They plan to organise a conference in 2024. When I learned that the topic is going to be about ‘Active Ageing: Mind, Body and Spirit’, I jumped up to volunteer to help.

It struck a chord in me. In my previous incarnation, I was a school teacher. The motto of the school I taught was ‘Mind, Body, Spirit’. That was in the spring of my life and my young students’ lives and now in my autumn years, it rings equally true.

Mind, body and spirit put the zest in our lives. We can live out the wise words of Snoopy: “We only die once, but should live every day.”

I will start with ‘body’. The years might have an impact (I hasten to use the word ‘negative’) on us physically, but we can ‘rage’ against the decline. We do take heed of the axiom: “Don’t use it, or lose it.”

Of course, the intensity and the type of activities might have to be adjusted in recognition of our age. I used to be an avid scuba diver and instructor. Those days, I did not think twice about lugging a 16kg air-tank in each hand, but now, I prefer my younger buddies to heave them for me.

There is a joke about sportsmen and the diminishing size of the ball they play with. I used to love to play basketball, then I graduated to playing tennis. I suppose the next step would be to play golf.

But the important thing is we are still moving.

‘Mind’ – ah, that is a real bummer. It might start with just plain forgetfulness, but it can creep in and develop to full-fledged dementia.

Some years ago, I had a class reunion. One of my classmates walked in and was guided by his wife. He looked at me as if he was staring at a blank wall.

Over 50 years ago, we used to play basketball, ride the bicycle and ogle at girls together.

Then, I was just a blank screen to him.

Last of all, ‘spirit’. We need to have the positive mindset to keep the ‘old man’ at bay.

I will not elaborate on these for now, suffice to say that for the conference, we have invited experts and practitioners in the field of ‘Mind, Body and Spirit’ to share ideas on how to enhance these powers.

I hope to see you all on March 16 and 17, 2024, in Kuching!