Today my monthly fix was calling me. So I chucked my baby girl in the sling and blitzed off to the shop to purchase the Metal Hammer magazine. On our little fix-acquiring adventure, Amelia wooed all and sundry. My little lovely batted her baby blues at the little old man queuing in front of us, and he was mesmerised. She then grabbed the fluffy woollen jersey belonging to a little old lady sitting next to us at the bus stop, and little old lady was enchanted. To up the tally of ‘old people smiles’, Amelia waved at an old lady on the bus, who then beamed hypnotically for the rest of the journey. My daughter is a little ray of sunshine who can make even the sternest of faces buckle under the formation of a smile.
You may notice a common thread in the above description; ‘old people’. Old people love my baby. But I don’t think that it’s just my baby. Old people, or to be politically correct, ‘the elderly’ seem to love all babies. There is something poignantly beautiful about an elderly person, who is graced with the wisdom gained from decades of life experience, reaching out in an attempt to recapture the miracle of a baby’s youth. As I travelled home on the bus, baby and Metal Hammer in hand, and contemplated the complexity of existence, I was reminded of Shakespeare’s ‘Seven Ages Of Man’ speech from As You Like It.
All the world’s a stage,
And all the men and women merely players,
They have their exits and entrances,
And one man in his time plays many parts,
His acts being seven ages. At first the infant,
Mewling and puking in the nurse’s arms.
Then, the whining schoolboy with his satchel
And shining morning face, creeping like snail
Unwillingly to school. And then the lover,
Sighing like furnace, with a woeful ballad
Made to his mistress’ eyebrow. Then a soldier,
Full of strange oaths, and bearded like the pard,
Jealous in honour, sudden, and quick in quarrel,
Seeking the bubble reputation
Even in the cannon’s mouth. And then the justice
In fair round belly, with good capon lin’d,
With eyes severe, and beard of formal cut,
Full of wise saws, and modern instances,
And so he plays his part. The sixth age shifts
Into the lean and slipper’d pantaloon,
With spectacles on nose, and pouch on side,
His youthful hose well sav’d, a world too wide,
For his shrunk shank, and his big manly voice,
Turning again towards childish treble, pipes
And whistles in his sound. Last scene of all,
That ends this strange eventful history,
Is second childishness and mere oblivion,
Sans teeth, sans eyes, sans taste, sans everything.
I have had the privilege of witnessing these very words enacted at Shakespeare’s Globe in London. And as I listened to Jaques’ melancholic monologue, whilst standing under the magnificent wooden beams of the theatre, my mind was immersed in Shakespeare’s poignant representation of the circle of life. We are born to this world as “mewling and puking” babes and it is natural for us to leave this world in much the same manner – in a “second childishness” – completely stripped of dignity; “sans teeth, sans eyes, sans taste, sans everything.” Yet true to Shakespeare’s love of satire, the philosophy of this very speech is rendered with a subtle irony and undermined by the timely arrival of Orlando’s aged servant, Adam, who enters bearing with him his loyalty, his incomparable service, and his undiminished integrity. To be old is not to be equated with degradation. The lines on an elderly face tell a life story, and those lines have been earned and should be worn with pride.
Perhaps my romantic musings may detract from the physical hardships suffered by an aged person whose body and mind are failing. And I think that it is for this very reason that I love and appreciate the smiles my little girl brings to so many. The elderly are drawn to Amelia’s life and vitality; a look, a gurgle, a smile and even a little wave serve to establish a human connection between a life drawing to a close and life ready to begin. It’s bitter sweet. It’s Life.