David Gemmell

Getting old is not a right it’s a privilege

RECENTLY, WHILE expounding on my aversion to ageing, and bemoaning my body that didn’t function as it used to, my bored companion said: “Oh stop whining about getting old. It’s not a right. Think of all the people who never had the privilege.” Well, that stopped me in my tracks. Who do I know who would have liked to grow old? I suppose my younger brother would happily swap with me; he died aged 36. My father died of a heart attack on his 70th birthday. I’m sure he still had unfinished business.


And what of the famous people who died during my lifetime? Take John Lennon. How many un-composed hit tunes went to the grave with him (and now he lies there, decomposing…)? Would he have liked a few more years, albeit just to marvel at the excitement and intrigue that is Paul McCartney’s life? In a previous life in London, I lived next door to the phenomenal English Formula 1 motorcycle rider, Barry Sheen. Sadly, he died at 52, losing a battle to cancer of the stomach and throat. By all accounts he was amazing. How distressing he didn’t have more time to be amazing.

I also knew James, ‘Hunt the shunt’, 1976 Formula 1 motor racing world champion, having played squash against him. In 1993, at a mere 45, he died of a heart attack. What would he make of people complaining about getting older? Ernest Becker in his 1974 Pulitzer Prize winning book, “The Denial of Death,” says: “We human beings develop strategies to fend off awareness of our mortality and vulnerability, to escape into the feeling that we’re immortal.” So, while pretending we aren’t going to die, we get irritated with ageing because it is a constant reminder we are going to die. But have you ever considered: knowing you are going to die, far from being a damper, can be a huge motivating influence?

If death wasn’t certain, we would have to contend with numerous complications. “What happens if I don’t die — will I have to get into super shape to live forever? Do I stay with the same partner for all time? Or will marriage become, ‘Till death or 20,000 years do us part…’ Won’t partners get bored? Five hundred years from now, will my job still exist? Won’t I eventually know everything and become boring? Will my knees last? Will they still make beer?” Knowing you aren’t going to live forever (in this life anyway), you don’t have to answer those questions. Knowing you have a finite time means you can decide the things you would fit into that period; places you would like to see, (some, if I live to 6 000, I wouldn’t bother with); things to do, to achieve, to experience, food you would like to eat, and the money you will need to earn.

Knowing roughly how long you have, means you can decide to enjoy it to the full. Not knowing, means you have to wonder how much energy to put into any one moment, just in case you end up with more moments than you have energy for. Often
we are held back by fear of failure. Knowing you are going to die means you should not have any fear of failing. I mean, are you going to be dead regretting you failed?

And keep reminding yourself, getting old is not a right – it is a privilege. So start tackling those challenges you avoided for fear of not succeeding. In his book, “Your Erroneous Zones,” Dr Wayne Dyer asks: “How long are you going to be dead for?” The answer is infinity. Compared to infinity, our lives are miniscule drops in the ocean and so we shouldn’t take getting old or too much else, too seriously. An interviewer once asked South African author Wilbur Smith what his life philosophy was. He answered: “Most things don’t matter, and those that do, don’t matter very much.”


Recently, I came across a list of athletic age records and saw that in 1994, a Harold Morioka, at 51, ran the 400m in 51.7 seconds. When I was at school, to get colours for athletics in the 400m, you had to run under 52 seconds. If in my school days you had put Morioka in a 400m race against the school’s fastest runners, and said he would get his colours for the event and win, I would have died laughing. But on his above time —he would have.
That made me consider how I am responding to ageing. Am I making the most of it? Am I achieving what someone my age is capable of achieving in every sphere of my life? Instead of whining and being a victim of something no-one has ever been able to avoid, shouldn’t I rather savour the joyous privilege of it all, and get on with living the rest of my time to the hilt?

Scottish comedian Billy Connolly tells of working in the shipyards in Glasgow where he had to collect an item from stores. Waiting for the storeman to serve him, he noticed the guy had a hacking, rasping cough of Olympian proportions. As the storeman served him, Billy couldn’t resist, “Good cough, Jimmy,” he said. “Is that so young Billy?” the storeman snapped. “Well, let me tell you, there are plenty of people in the graveyards who wish they had my cough.” And remember when next you find yourself complaining about another birthday, it is those who have the most birthdays that live the longest… There are three things that indicate you are getting older; first there is loss of memory …uh can’t remember the others so I suppose they aren’t important.



About the author

David Gemmell

In 2009, I wrote a book on rugby player, the late Joost van der Westhuizen; which became a number one best-seller, (…for +-10min). Thereafter I wrote the biography of Father Stan Brennon who buried Chris Hani – Colour Blind Faith. For a number of years, I had a column in Business Day called, ‘Fit for Business’ and for a period, a column in The Weekender newspaper interviewing sportsmen. I have written for The Daily Maverick and still occasionally do. I also write intermittently for BizNews, Alec Hogg’s online newspaper. My articles have appeared in SAWUBONA, FM, and numerous other magazines and I currently have a column in the Saturday Star, writing about Street People.

Add Comment

Click here to post a comment

Visit the AA Stand at the Rand Show from 30 March for Road Assist!

World Travel Market at your doorstep

Find us Anytime Anywhere

Collaborate with us on Social Media

Enter your email address and we will contact you to collaborate with Anytime Magazine. If you have more than 2000 followers on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram or Pinterest, we will include you on our social media posts directly from our site. If more than 10 people share it we will pay you $1!