If you’re reading this, I’m afraid we’re on the same journey, one that is heading towards an inevitable end. The end of our lives. We will all die one day, albeit possibly at different times and in different ways.
The moment we came into this world, our remaining time left was set on a countdown timer. Each and every one of us, our timers ticking away, second by second, minute by minute, hour by hour, day by day, year by year, whether we are willing to accept it or not.
Whenever I take the subway train or public bus, I would always stare at the young school students in envy of their youth. I’m not old by any standards (I hope) — 27 years old this year — but definitely old when standing beside any middle or high school student. Looking at students beaming with energy and thinking of the bright years they have ahead of them, I can’t help but feel old and jealous.
Looking at people younger than me sends my mind into a distant memory where I did things I regretted now whenever I look back. If only I could re-live those days as a younger me.
Ironically, many of us wanted to grow older quickly when we were much younger. To be matured age-wise for rated movies, alcohol, cigarettes, credit cards, sex — basically all the “grown-up” stuff.
Most of us indulge in all the above-mentioned as if there was no tomorrow when we had the chance. Myself included. Except for the cigarettes and multiple sex partners.
But as we grew past that — depending on how long it takes a person to get sick of the hangovers, bad breath and yellowed fingers, piling debts that didn’t seem repayable, and tear-filled, sleepless nights or random texts (or booty calls) from exes — we realised ageing is scary.
Apart from the responsibilities we have to shoulder as adults, we realise life is indeed a tough nut to crack. How do I find my true calling? How do I build meaningful relationships with the people who matter to me? How do I live a fulfilled life without regrets?
These are just some common questions that I, too, ask myself on a regular basis. These are all tough questions to answer with our limited time on Earth. And it doesn’t help that our first whiff of that fact usually hits us like a truck when a life-changing event, such as the passing of a grandparent, the end of long-time relationships or close friendships. We realise how vulnerable human life actually is and how easily people can just leave us overnight.
I can still clearly remember the first time I experienced loss. I was barely four years old, a little kid whose surroundings always seemed gigantic because of my tiny frame at that time. I recalled seeing my late paternal grandmother every single day, always resting in her wheelchair.
Then one day, she just disappeared. Gone.
As with most parents, Daddy and Mummy told me, “Granny went to a faraway place and wouldn’t come back home for a very long time.” When I learned about death later in school and how ageing would one day cause our demise unless something else gets us first, you could imagine the amount of time I spent thinking about it.
Yes, I’m thinking of it to this day. What will happen when I grow old? Would I be like Granny? Would I have my grandchildren and children around my deathbed, would I go earlier than my friends and spouse (provided I have one)?
When I constantly repeat my past glorified days, when my psychomotor coordination deteriorates, and when meeting friends of similar age are no longer possible because most of them would have been long in the ground, would the people who matter to me stay by my side?
I vaguely remember playing around Granny as she sat mostly motionless in her wheelchair. She would always greet me with a smile. Most of my memories with her are fuzzy but I remembered the day before she was gone forever. She was mostly in pain because of colon cancer but that day, she looked different, as I could remember vaguely. I’m glad my parents, my elder sister and I were there to accompany her throughout her last days.
Ultimately, I think what scares us most about ageing is actually closely related to our own personal relationships.
Have I created an impact on people’s lives?
Will I be remembered by those who are dear to me?
Will I be remembered by anyone at all?
I believe humans are born to connect. We want to be feel belonged, to love and be loved, to serve a purpose greater than ourselves. Because nothing will mean anything if it’s not shared.
Happiness is better when shared.
This is also probably why there are many people who are successful by society standards of social status, fame or wealth but they don’t feel happy or fulfilled. Without anyone to share the material possessions with is equivalent to not having any at all. Seeing more wrinkles form on our faces and our energy slowly depleting one birthday wish at a time, are subtle reminders that our life clock is ticking away.
More often than not, for the most of us who don’t make the conscious efforts to maintain existing relationships, let alone forge new ones, we realise the number of people whom we can call in times of emergency would diminish faster than we can recall. Some of us are even worried that our family members wouldn’t be there for us when we need them.
Sometimes it’s because of our pursuit of material possessions, other times it could be just our luck. But I still prefer to think our obsession with the short-term aesthetics is the cause. Wealth, fame, power, appearance, sex, all those don’t mean anything if the world were to end the next moment.
Because of our futile chase towards the ephemeral objects on Earth, we often age with regrets. Regrets of not building a garden we’d like to stroll in, regrets of not maintaining the bonds we had with people in our lives, regrets of not caring more for the people dear to us.
For me, human connection and meaningful relationships are the only remedies to conquering our fear of ageing. To know that we’re not alone in this inevitable journey towards death is where we humans can find comfort. For ageing is often seen as a lonely and painful journey when it isn’t and shouldn’t be. Ageing can be filled with joy and experienced with the people whom we think of every time our mind drifts off as we look into the sky.
Of course, ageing is kind of a first-world problem because people living in poverty are more afraid of starving to death or dying of diseases rather than ageing. But that’s for another day to discuss.
To all who are “privileged” enough to fear ageing more than the other bringers of our inevitable death:
We make our entrance into and exit from this world alone but that doesn’t mean we can’t travel the journey together with those who matter to us. It is an inevitable route to death — no doubt about that. But with the limited time we have, build the relationships we’ll be proud of as we take our last breaths. Because we came into this world without anything and we can’t leave this world with anything but we can leave our legacy and impact the lives of others who will be traversing the same path we took.
I’ll always be afraid of ageing and death, even until my last day on Earth — humans are wired that way. Every time I connect with others, though, especially with those who are worth it, I get a little less scared of the unavoidable. For I know I’m not alone.