When Are The Best Years Of Your Life?
July 1, 2013
Mr. Chan was slouched on the chair at the foot of his bed. His elbows bore the brunt of his body’s weight because his back could not touch the chair’s back. Yet he refused to lie down on the hospital bed. “As long as you have the ability to sit, you should sit,” he said with a broad grin. I suspected that sentence was incomplete. As long as you have the ability to move, you should dance, he might well have added. This was a man I wanted to know. I asked him if I could sit beside him.
Then he said something that has stayed with me all week long: “Eighty-five is the best age you can be.”
This went against everything I had ever been told. In my childhood I was told those were the best years of my life. I remember thinking that was a very sad thing to say to me. Were the adults implying that the rest of life would be more unhappy?
At my niece’s sweet sixteen the grown-ups spoke out in unabashed envy: “I wish I were sweet sixteen again.” To which my niece grimaced. She knew very well that sixteen is a confusing age, on the threshold of adulthood, one has few of the coping skills and less of the wisdom to navigate adult life. Of course what the adults meant was, if I could be sixteen again but know what I now know.
I remember during my college years some of the guys saying, “These are the best years of our lives.” I remember thinking, how can anyone make that statement except on his deathbed? Surely it is better to believe that the best is yet to come?
My sister just worked the last day of her working life. After forty years of setting the alarm, forty years of elbow-to-elbow commutes, those stresses are over. All month long workers from her office building, most of whom she had no previous dealings with, have been passing by her desk to wish her well. They can barely disguise their utter jealousy. Is sixty-five the best age?
Recently my family celebrated my grand-nephew’s first birthday. He is lucky enough to belong to a large extended family. He has no shortage of adults eager to hold and cuddle him. His every move, the minutiae of his experiments in eating, walking, speaking are breaking news for dozens of us relatives. Are these the best years? He is so completely loved, just for who he is. Yet he unaware of this fact. He will have no memory of these years and down the years. He will even have moments of doubt when he will question whether his parents even loved him at all.
Fifty is supposed to be the age of wisdom and, according to the World Happiness Database, older people are happier because they are wiser. But eighty-five? I asked Mr. Chan why this was the best age of his life. “Well,” he said confidently, “I have no more worries.” I was stunned. I knew a little of his medical history, he wasn’t in hospital to have fun. In my speechless silence, I looked at his peaceful eyes, and the joyful energy of his being. I realized his age had afforded him detachment from the cares of the world. There was so much more I wanted to ask him: Had he perhaps achieved all he had ever dreamed? Is there nothing to to be done, nothing more to gain? But we were interrupted by the arrival of his daughter, a dutiful and caring woman who came with containers of lovingly prepared home meals. Could his obvious sense of completeness have something to do with being so loved, and more importantly, being aware of being loved?
A wise man once said to me: “To love and to be loved is true success in life.”
Had Mr Chan, at age eighty-five, achieved success?
I don’t know when is the best age in life. It is one of those questions where the answer is less important than the query. All I know is that Mr. Chan’s confident statement will stay with me for a long, long time.