With old age the world shrinks

Twenty against twenty. The coming year will herald an important turning point in the social and personal history of our country: the parity between twenty million workers and twenty million pensioners will be close. The remaining third, including children, housewives, unemployed, well-off and submerged, completes the Italian population. In a few years, just over a dozen, there will be a clear overtaking of retired elderly people over workers. But that’s not all: half of public resources are already absorbed by social security (48%) and over a fifth by health care (21.8%). In short, 70% of public resources go mainly to the elderly, more than to young people, social policies (18.2%) or education (11.6%). This is indicated by the 2022 Report of the Think Tank “Welfare, Italy”.
It may be nice to know that thanks to longevity and well-being, many Italians will be able to enjoy their retirement for a long time. But the fact that for every worker there is a pensioner is a socially and economically worrying prospect: the social security and pension system cannot hold up like this, it is ever closer to collapse; and Italy without young people and without children, plunged into old age, has no future. But I would not like to repeat the usual denunciation of the country of old people or even the comforting remark that being old today is something very different from yesterday, because retirees have energy, they are largely wealthy, even if they are more lonely and depressed.
But one knot remains: when you get old, that is what is the transition point to senility? I’m not looking for a medical, scientific or statistical answer, but an existential one, that is linked to the reality of life.
If I had to define, as an old man still young, what is the salient aspect of old age, I would say in one sentence: you become old when you shrink the world and not just the future time available to you. Possibilities and resources are restricted, making them less accessible, less vast and less vigorous; many physical and mental faculties are restricted, the energies and the fire that revived them are impoverished; the names you remember shrink, together with the neurons the mnemonic possibilities and synapses are shortened; the duration and resistance to everything is shortened, not just urinary, muscular or respiratory; the opportunities are restricted, the things you can do, that you can drink and that you can eat; pleasures and vital performances, natural impulses are restricted; the visual and auditory field narrows, but also the other senses beat a retreat, like the reflexes; the places you can access, the stadiums and states you previously reached are restricted; you are doomed to proximity; the number of people you know and hang out with shrinks because the dead and the sick empty your world; expectations and active life shrink, increasingly passing from protagonists to spectators, extras, transient figures. We become more and more spectators and less and less actors and not only in the film-television sense, as a sofa; even in life the space of your relationships shrinks, you live the life of others, you are like at the window; facts concern you less and less; you are just a spectator, you are no longer inside the scene but outside. If you look at a beautiful girl, you know that it no longer affects you directly; you are beside her, you observe her as if you see her in a video, she cannot relate to you. And so many vital acts would be inappropriate and frowned upon; you must maintain sobriety, that is, let others live for you. The social role, relevance, consideration are also restricted.
It is therefore not only time that is shortening, which already generates some unhappiness if not anguish; but the world becomes smaller, the field of possibilities narrows significantly and progressively. It contracts, crumples and you feel that the process is irreversible, it’s a point of no return, a one way, downhill. Without the possibility of revenge or recovery. This is properly old age, beyond aches and pains: the narrow world; live, do, be less. Living with the “minus” sign.
Then there are ethereal compensations, subtle compensations and tenuous comforts: it is possible to achieve a certain satiety of life and a gentle detachment from things; there is freedom to escape from what you don’t like and to live, you have fewer obligations and less anxieties, you have to give less and less accounts, you have greater possibilities of contemplating life, of appreciating its nuances, than in the haste and fury of the many vital possibilities elude the youngest. The slowness of the elderly does not derive only from the weight of the years and from ailments, but also from the longer time available, free time which lengthens while life is shortening, worries give way to calm. Then there is the beauty of nostalgia, the bitter sweetness of memories… With senility arises the natural tendency to become more spiritual, lighter even in serious age, stubborn seekers of light compared to the dark, in the evening and at night; you reduce the importance of things, and the stress that arose from them, until you grasp their irrelevance; give less weight to many once important matters and events and give more weight to others that passed unnoticed.
Yes, there are also gains and achievements over the years, which once went by the name of wisdom, the wisdom of the old. Little consolations? I don’t know, they mark the passage from the search for happiness to the search for serenity, but life must be accepted in all its seasons and each season in the way that suits it. Do it with love.

(Panorama, no.50)

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With old age the world shrinks – Marcello Veneziani