“Papa, why do we get old? I want to stay like this forever.”
“Why do you want to stay 7 years old forever?”
“Because that way I can play and go to school with my friends and be with you and you’ll never die.”
“So you want me to stay this way as well?”
“Yes and Mommy and my little brother.”
My son often talks about inventing a potion (he is a big Harry Potter fan) that will freeze us all at the age we currently are, and have our lives continue as they are in the present. We’ve spoken of death before and this past morning the conversation largely resembled the other ones of late, but it also got me thinking about my place in life and as I sat in the metro on the way to work I was more acutely aware of the ages and ageing of those around me as I had been in a long time.
Why do we age?
We aren’t as young as our cells.
“What does that mean Dad?”
Well it turns out that even though I am 44 years old, my cells, those tiny little bits of me that we can’t see are a lot younger. Most of those little bits of me, of us, are constantly renewing themselves. As we grow, the little cells in our body keeping adding to themselves and making themselves new. Like the leaves of a tree, they grow, they die and they are replaced. Our entire skeleton replaces itself about every 10 years. That means that the bones in my body are just a bit older than you, my boy.
“I’m seven Dad”
“Yes, I know.”
As we keep renewing ourselves every few years, (the liver regenerates itself completely every year or so), why shouldn’t we live forever? What stops these new cells from staying new?
“If we’re so young Papa, then why don’t we stay young?”
Sadly, the potion to keep us young isn’t the regeneration of our cells – or at least not yet. As our cells regenerate they pass on the DNA of the old cells and sometimes the copy-paste doesn’t quite work out correctly as the cells mutate. So they aren’t always a completely clear copy of the old cells. Think about that photocopy we copied 10 times last month. The last one wasn’t so good was it?
Our cells might be young in time, but they actually age as well as they form new copies of each other and so slowly we get older and you start to see it.
“Like your grey hair Papa?”
“Yes that’s a good sign of my getting older, my boy.”
Why are we mostly not prepared for ageing?
As we age slowly we don’t really see it.
We often say we know time is passing by signs outside ourselves. Kids getting older. Older people passing away. A pet having difficulty getting up or jumping onto the bed. Seeing an old friend.
In ourselves, this process seems to go by largely unnoticed. Perhaps until an injury or a sickness when we are forced to contemplate that time is passing and our body is slowly decaying.
Truth is (and we know this is a truth) our time on this planet is limited. We aren’t going to live forever, no matter what we thought when we were 16. We aren’t immortal, and Connor Macleod doesn’t happen to anyone – it was just a movie.
We go to school, go to university, get a job, get married, have kids, work hard, travel for work, travel for fun, save money and then retire at 65 or 70 and realize we’re running out of time. We haven’t done everything we want to do. We didn’t spend enough time with the kids. Perhaps we lost track of some amazing friends. Perhaps we focused on the wrong things? Perhaps we were so busy doing things that we didn’t stop to ask ourselves if we were doing the right things for us?
We get distracted by our lives and forget to focus on the fact that our time is limited. Maybe we tell ourselves just a few more years of this job and then I’ll go look for something else? And then maybe a decade passes and we are still telling ourselves the same thing.
“If we don’t live forever Papa, why do we need to work then, why can’t we just play all the time?”
“I sometimes play at work my boy. Work is not all boring”
“Then why do you sometimes get home all grumpy? I don’t get grumpy from the park.”
“That’s not true? Remember when your friend Raphael, pushed you down yesterday?”
Finding a job that makes it feel like you’re playing in the park with your friends, is perhaps something we all strive to find. Maybe some of us find it? Maybe some of us don’t. But it should be our objective. I’d like to imagine a world for my son, where he finds a job that feels like that and I’d really, really like to find one for myself.
How can we make the most of getting old?
I’ve told my son many times that he needs to work hard at school, but that he also needs to enjoy himself as I have always found that when I’m having fun at work, at anything, then I don’t find the time passing.
“Yes Dad, when I’m doing mathematics it always end so fast, but when I’m reading I feel like it takes so long.”
Maybe that is the answer? To find things we enjoying doing rather than focus just on that steady job that pays the bills?
But is that an illusion? Or are they compatible?
Maybe we get duped into following the money and then looking for the fun afterwards when it should actually be the other way around? Maybe we can learn more from what we tell our children?
Take care of your body as you don’t know just how long you’ll need it. Focus on the things that make you happy, build a reasonably good intellectual foundation around the things you enjoy doing and never stop learning, experiencing and enjoying your short time on this planet. You never know when your time will be up.
Be that kid in you and find more ways to make your world one in which you always have the best time at the park with your friends.
“You’ll see Papa, when I’m big I’ll make a potion that will bring us right back to this time and we’ll be together forever.”