A strange meeting
Although there was no one in sight in this vast empty 360- degree landscape, the footsteps were spookily audible. The air was clear, scented with wild herbs, a breath-taking change from Tehran’s pollution below. And silent! Blissfully so. Up to now. I continued my puff up this exquisite 4000 metre mountain. At last the footsteps attached themselves to a person, a tribal girl all alone, beautiful, big eyed, graceful, healthy. She caught up, said nothing, but slowed her easy pace to match mine, walking beside me in companionable silence, on this, her familiar territory. She was easy with the silence. I was less so. Trying to get into conversation, I asked how old she was (I was still struggling with this new-to-me Farsi language.) “Mother, I do not know,” she answered. I stopped, dumfounded. I’d never been called “mother” before, having not had children yet, and that was a shock. But even more astounding was the concept that a whole people could live, run, and manage life without knowing their ages.
What, no age limits?
Imagine that, if you can! No over 50s lunches, no school years by age, no forced retirement age, no one saying your child should walk at 18 months, no one complaining that there isn’t anyone “my age” to talk to, no one saying how “marvellous” you are because you’re taking a university degree at 80, no one announcing loudly that they’re too old to learn computers, no one to force boys to take exams at the same time as girls even though decades of psychologists say that teen boys and girls are emotionally two years apart (see? I can’t help it – I just used an ageist model!)
I’ve been trying to figure out why ageism is so jarring, so irritating to me. I think it’s because it makes us look at people through a frame called Date of Birth, with expectations of what that DOB implies as to how someone thinks, believes, cares, and is interested in. This added assumption distorts identity, doesn’t allow us to meet the real person, and in some cases, dismisses them entirely as a non person. I even heard of a ghastly situation where a committee, shortlisting candidates, started with the year they were born!
That lovely girl on the mountain makes me realise how age dominates everything we do, strait-jacketing our identity, who we think we are, how we look at ourselves, and how others see us. Is it so embedded that we are evermore manacled to anno domini?
A way out!
Slithering in and out of our age-restrained society, tough as grass growing through cement, is a beautiful, colourful, thread woven into our lives. If we look for it and follow its pattern there are emancipating, joy-giving age-free experiences, where the number of years has no significance at all.
It can sneak silently almost unrecognized, into life in tiny ways: individuals who share recipes, gardening tips, knitting patterns, household hints, computer help, tidbits that lighten living.
Or it can burst forth jubilantly when groups gather together despite age: aero-modellers, steam train enthusiasts, Extinction Rebellion, amateur jazz musicians, local drama clubs, ramblers: people with a common goal, with a focus on sharing their experiences, facing success and failure together. And just this week I’ve heard of a glorious ukulele group aged 7 to 70+ who strum, blunder, and succeed with hilarity and friendship. How wonderful!
So, what is the secret of this disappearing age lock? What’s the motivation that draws folk who hardly know each other into one? Answer: they are doing what the soul needs most, what the human being is hard-wired for: they are learning. And they’re doing it together.
Sheila’s Rice Crispy Crunchies
I made this for one of the most age-free groups I’ve encountered: Messy Church. It started as a “proper” church service for families – exuberantly messy with paints and paper and whoop-di-doo based on the scripture for the week. It ends with a meal. I say that it started as a family service, but everyone has such a wildly good time that all ages come along anyway, sit at the art tables and try their hand at illustrating the passage of the day, usually laughing at the results.
These crunchies are amazingly simple, because you’re not making anything, just building on others’ hard work.
Melt 4 ozs (110 gms, ½ cup) butter, 4 ozs (110 gms) good quality toffee, and 4 ozs (110 gms) marshmallows together until deliciously gooey. Then add as many cups of crispy rice cereal, as it would take to ensure all are covered with caramel sauce.
Spread in a heavily buttered roasting pan, or one with parchment paper, until evenly distributed. A smaller pan will make thicker pieces (duh!). Cool until set. Slice into desired-size squares. Children like these, and adults remember again that they like them.
[Our friend Sheila made these when she and her husband took part in rehearsing and performing the York Mystery Plays. Now, there was an age-free group!].
Very appropriate to have posted this story on a leap year extra day that exists only because humans’ attempt to create neatly-ordered time spans (that enable people to calculate ‘age’ ) is at odds with the universe and nature’s own way of doing things.