“Now that I’m growing older,
My pilot light is out;
What used to be my sex appeal
Is now my water spout…”
I was in my mid-20s, at the peak of my virility, when I came upon this verse. I found it extremely funny. I also thought it referred to people who had reached 40, which, at the time, I considered old or, least, “middle age.”
This week, 55 years later and turning 80, I no longer think it’s funny. I particularly feel the pain of those who have to bear with, not just a water spout, but an involuntarily dripping faucet due to incontinence, on top of the usual ailments of an overused body.
These are among the vexing pains of old age. But compared to these, aging also brings joys a-plenty.
Among the biggest sources of joy, of course, are grandchildren. As they shriek and dash around the house, causing chairs to tumble and breaking collectibles, your urge to unsheathe your belt and apply it on their butts is doused by a kiss on the cheek and the beautiful words, “I love you grandpa.”
Next on the list is retirement — no longer having to jump out of bed in the morning to struggle with the traffic in a futile effort to get to your business appointment on time. No longer having to worry about meeting a deadline and pleasing the boss — or, if you are the boss, no longer having to wonder if your people are calling you a grumpy old man behind your back.
And then there are the opportunities to travel — the chance to finally visit those faraway places with strange-sounding names — that is, if you have the funds. Otherwise, you can at least settle back on your easy chair — no stress, no pressures — and flip the TV to the travel channel for a vicarious tour of the great cities of the world.
In the Philippines, being a senior citizen offers many advantages, not the least of which is younger folks treating you with respect. This is more than you can say about some Western societies that treat old people like discards.
At banks and other service establishments in the Philippines, there are special counters for senior citizens. The only downside is that the pretty young thing at the counter tends to call you Lolo or Tatang, thus spoiling your flirtatious fantasies.
I find it totally amusing that in the Philippines, where ladies still balk at revealing their age and old men dye their hair to look young, everyone readily flashes a senior citizen’s card when the restaurant bill comes. The 20% discount can add up to hefty savings.
Indeed, there seem to be more discounts offered to old folks in the Philippines than in America, where my family and I have resided for over 33 years. Of course, in the US, seniors get special treatment in a number of ways — in terms of health care, for instance.
My wife and I used to spend a small fortune each month for our health insurance in California, but from the time we became 65, Medicare reduced the monthly assessments to an affordable amount while still retaining the quality of health maintenance and preventive care.
In fact, this is one of the problems with retiring in the Philippines. While there are many advantages (our measly social security pension can go a long way here) there does not seem to be a regimen of preventive care and health maintenance — unless, perhaps, you pay extra for the service. One is usually already in extremis or terminal when brought to the hospital.
In the US, your primary health care doctor constantly monitors your bodily functions, the better to spot potential problems, such as a prostate condition, at their early stage and, thus, still curable or controllable.
At US airports, where security checks are very strict, folks over 75 are allowed to keep their shoes on and you don’t have to pass through an X-ray scanner (you can’t say the same thing about NAIA — the security people insist on your taking off your shoes even if you look as ancient as Methuselah).
In America, among Pinoys, one of the fears of old people is the prospect of being consigned to a home for the elderly. The impression is that it is a virtual banishment to a place where they are supposed to just await their date with the Grim Reaper.
For this reason, many Filipino families that are caring for their aging parents feel guilty about even discussing the subject of an old folks’ home for them.
The truth is that a well-run home for the elderly is a better option for aging parents than being left alone in the house while everyone else is at work or in school — having only the TV for company. A home for the elderly, with social activities, nursing care and the company of fellow seniors, is most certainly a better option for inay and itay than being used as unpaid babysitters.
Finally, whether one is in the Philippines or in America, the inevitability of passing away has to be addressed. Among superstitious and ultra-religious Pinoys, this is a topic that is considered almost irreverent to take up. This, at least, may be the attitude of younger family members — as if by avoiding the subject, Death can also be avoided.
But, frankly, when you reach the ripe old age of 80, you become resigned to the inevitable.
According to statistics, the average life-span of people in America is 76. That means that a person like me who makes it to 80 years is already enjoying a four-year bonus.
Those who live to be 90 or older may not necessarily be more fortunate — not if they have failing health and, most certainly, not if they have not yet made peace with God, with their families, their friends, their enemies, and with their creditors.
I believe I have — or, at least, I have tried my best to do so.
I have also just launched my second book, Confusions of a Communications Man, which tells about the joys and pains of being in the profession of communications. I end the book with a beautiful ballad by Tony Bennett, which I would like to share. It tells of the joys of aging:
“As I approach the prime of my life, I find I have the time of my life
Learning to enjoy at my leisure all the simple pleasures;
And so I happily concede that this is all I ask, this is all I need:
Beautiful girl, walk a little slower as you walk by me;
Lingering sunset, stay a little longer with the lonely sea;
Children everywhere, when you shoot at bad men,
Shoot at me, take me to that strange enchanted land,
Grown-ups seldom understand;
Wandering rainbow, leave a bit of color for my heart to own;
Stars in the sky, make my wish come true before the night has flown;
And let the music play — as long as there’s a song to sing,
Then I will stay younger than spring.”
Greg B. Macabenta is an advertising and communications man shuttling between San Francisco and Manila and providing unique insights on issues from both perspectives.