It was sometime in the year 2010, I was walking behind the celebrated World Court Jurist Prince Bola Ajibola on our way to the Ogun State Elders’ Forum meeting when the then 76-year-old Judge turned round and exclaimed: “Tola, nnkan ti won n pe ni agba yi ‘o gaa o! ’ meaning old age is a big burden.. He had probably thought I was observing how his footsteps were slightly slow and unsteady and the knots and bolts holding his limbs and legs together were in a state of ageing.
For a man who had lived a very action-packed life of accomplishments and whose calling had taken him round all the corners of the globe, not to talk of his days as the National President of the Nigerian Bar Association and also as the Attorney-General and Federal Minister of Justice it was not unexpected that the law of diminishing returns was exerting its toll. Little surprise then if the respectable gentleman inching towards 80 years of ceaseless breathing should cry out, albeit jokingly that this thing called old age is not a tea party.
I have ruminated over the exclamation and have come to the conclusion that the inescapable challenges of old age may make ageing unpalatable. From the moment you turn forty and grey hairs start competing for space with your charming and shining beautiful black hairs it starts dawning on you that you are no longer the agile dashing young man of 21 you used to be..And the same applies to women who by that age are expected, normally to have spent at least 10 to 15 years sharing a life with someone who hitherto was a total stranger. At 40, some three or four children would have emptied themselves out of the womb, several years of discharging wifely and motherly responsibilities with their own peculiar challenges and energy sapping duties. And of course all those responsibilities depreciate the body and all the organs there-in.
Age 50 exerts the greatest financial challenges. Paying for children’s tertiary education and making provision for getting the proud certificate of Landlord if one had not already achieved that coveted title before age 45. From age 50 upwards you get invited to close friends’ children’s marriage ceremonies and society begins to expect so much from you in terms of corporate social responsibility and community services.
Age 60 is the beginning of serious health challenges. Arthritis comes calling, while diabetes refuses to take the back seat. High blood pressure says it will not be found wanting in the health and ailment calendar while diabetes insists that obesity cannot claim leadership over it. Worries upon worries creep in as you start dreaming of the challenges your retirement at age 60 or 65 or 70 is going to impose on you. You get the more worried if you did not marry early enough and at 60 you still have children in the primary school or in JSS3!
Cancer and Prostate rear their heads at this time if you are lucky to have escaped their unwanted and unwelcomed visit before now. But whether they have come calling or not the thought of their possibility lingers in your mind almost 24-hours of each day.
The toll age exerts on performance level is the most challenging. Women go through the challenges of menopause while their male counterparts go through the notorious erectile dysfunction. While women grudgingly accept the reality of menopause with its attendant heat waves and occasional irrationality they still feel comforted by the savings they make on the care gadgets of their monthly rejuvenation. Women can therefore freely discuss menopause while men hardly discuss their erectile dysfunction or at best talk about it in hushed tones.
At the social level, age forces you to abandon the many things you considered fun while at a younger age. The Holy Writ says you behave as a child when you are a child and as an elder when you are a fully grown adult. Old age restricts your social movements. There are places you will not like to be found simply on account of your age.
Your diet becomes seriously restricted and limited. You must not eat this and that. You must not drink this and that. You must eat this food and drink that drink. In the end you are left to wonder if there is indeed any food considered safe, health wise, for you to consume.
If you are unlucky to be visited by Mr Stroke or Mr Heart attacks you in what is@ commonly called ‘heart attack’ you are on your own!
Old age may give you inconveniences and you find yourself in old age wearing diapers like infants! There is hardly any limit to what ageing can do to you. And paradoxically everybody prays for old age. I too pray for old age especially given the fact that my darling mother lived up to the ripe age of 96 before the ‘wicked ones’ denied her the pleasure of living up to 100. Her own kind of old age was worth praying for as she was still climbing up to my third floor apartment in my country home at Ago-Iwoye without any walking aid up until she passed on October 31 last year. And on the day she journeyed forth, she treated herself to pounded yam and fresh fish and simply passed while chatting with some of her children and grandchildren. No illness whatsoever.
Your back may become bent, your neck gets stiffened, your legs can hardly support your body weight, and in some cases you may become so frail that people begin to mistake you for a 13-year-old spending his second year on hospital bed.
Worth repeating is the law of diminishing returns. Economics taught us the law of diminishing returns as it affects machinery and other physical components of production. This law also applies to men’s ability to make heaps on the farm, and funnily it applies to the performance in hallowed chambers. Several men have terminated their stay on planet earth while refusing to accept the reality and truism of this law of diminishing returns.
We must of course pay homage to old age. It is not all challenges and frightening news. Old age confers automatic maturity, and when the maturity comes with wisdom, it becomes a blessing to mankind and a big resource centre for researchers and crisis managers.
Old age helps with conflict resolution and ability to offer counsel and guidance to the younger generation. Any society without abundance of old men is likely to breed children that will forever grope in darkness.
But we must go back to the physical challenges of growing old, especially with concern for health and the attendant law of diminishing returns. And if you happen to be unlucky to have longevity without commensurate financial support to cushion your daily living demands, you are likely to resign to a life of misery, of regrets, of abandonment and sorrow.
Shouldn’t I say that to mitigate the unpleasantness of living to old age without the needed support every human being must invest in their children, because as they say in Ekitiland; OMOLALE! [children are your investments for old age]
All said and done, when you are old, you are old. A 70-year-old man can never be as strong and agile as a man of 27. No one can cheat nature, and no one should dare.
"If you want to go quickly, go alone but if you want to go far, go together".