Age is a really terrible thing, isn’t it? Those of you who don’t realise this yet, will – one day. Haha, don’t fret, it happens to everyone. Yes, including YOU! Apart from the wrinkles, the slow but steady onslaught of grey hair proliferating on my head and the increasing creakiness of my body I’ve noticed a very gradual, but definite, fading of myself. What do I mean by this? I’m talking about mattering to the world at large, to society. It’s a young person’s world out there and the older you get, the less you matter. The less you are seen. I admit to having been guilty of this very same crime when I was younger. I would look at “older” people with a filter. And, at the tender age of 42½ I am starting to feel that perhaps now I’m being filtered. Not by everybody of course – certainly not by people my own age, but I think that’s what stops us from going crazy, right? You’re not going through it alone and there are always others of the same generation experiencing the same thing (though I’m sure we all feel it in different ways).
For instance, when I think about how old I am, I’m not too concerned with the number. I have a look at how I feel, and to be honest, I still feel 23. Doesn’t everyone feel like this?? Sometimes I’m shocked by how little time I probably have left to accomplish all the things I want to do. This sometimes serves as inspiration, but often it just leaves me feeling shit scared. I guess in the greater scheme of things I am at the younger end of the “old age” spectrum and I often wonder how those towards the other end feel. My mother is, I suppose, smack bang in the middle of this timeline. Officially a senior citizen (which kind of freaks me out – though I imagine it freaks her out even more!!!). I know that she is feeling the vagaries of time, especially as she faces the remainder of her life without my Dad, who passed away ten years ago. It must be hard. On the one hand, time must seem to stretch out like a very lonely road, parts of it insufficiently lit, and parts unchartered. On the other hand, time just keeps on tick, tick, ticking away and before you know it…. well, you know what.
I admit to not ever being close to my grandparents, having never lived in the same country as them. In a way, not having the chance to develop a relationship with people of their generation means that I probably missed out on something rather special. Perhaps that’s why when I was younger I had a total blind spot for people with wrinkly skin and white hair. I didn’t know how to relate to them. I didn’t actually realise that I could. They were always “other”, and foreign to me. Sure, I’ve always had an easy affinity with people of my parents’ generation. I was brought up to be respectful, but relaxed, around them. But old, old people? I was at a loss.
Of course, now that I’ve joined that old age factory line towards death (albeit at the younger end), I have become aware that older people are… well, they’re just like me. They are interesting and engaging. Their outer casing may be wrinkly and spotted and scarred and sore and stiff, and unable to do the things they used to do. And sometimes their memories aren’t great either. But these people have lived, and they are still living. And what’s exciting to me now is meeting someone who can paint me a picture I’ve never seen, in words I’ve never heard before.
On a recent trip to Australia, my husband and I stayed a few days in Adelaide to catch up with his parents. They arranged a lunch with some old family friends that David hadn’t seen in several years. Meeting Shirley and Alan Dawe was quite honestly one of the highlights of my trip.
From the moment Alan sat down opposite me at the table, he had me enraptured. He is a dynamic, intriguing, charming fellow and he has lived an incredible life. In fact, you could say that he is one of Australia’s unsung living legends! Let me tell you a little bit about him.
Alan is 79 years old. He retired 15 years ago but has always pursued post-retirement activities that would give structure (and perhaps, meaning) to his life. He is still an avid golfer, playing every week. But even that’s not enough for him. A few years ago, he walked into a bakery that a friend of his owns in Adelaide. While chatting to the workers, he picked up a broom and started sweeping the floors. It was the beginning of a new purpose in Alan’s life. Nearly three years later he still goes in to the bakery two or three times a week to “help” out. He is now in charge of the quiche department! And he does a damn, good job, paid in left-over quiches and cartons of milk.
Oh, and Alan Dawe used to play basketball. I mean like, for real. Over a career that’s spanned decades, he’s been the recipient of two “Best & Fairest” Woollacott medals (in 1958 and 1959), represented Australia in the first basketball team to play at an Olympics (Rome, 1960), acted as Olympic selector (Montreal, 1976) and served as Assistance Coach (under Lindsay Gaze) to the team that played at the Moscow, 1980 Olympics.
I’ve never met an Olympian before and I admit to being a little awestruck. But Alan is such a self-deprecating, easy-going fellow that, before long, we were chatting like old friends. He told me stories, and I lapped them up! He reminisced about a mid-winter trip to the US with the Australian national team where they landed at an airport at the beginning of a snow storm. The entire airport closed down, but their jet was priority-taxied to a position where the players could disembark and climb aboard police-escorted limousines that took them through the middle of the grid-locked city to the stadium (green traffic lights the whole way). The way he told the story was so captivating, so engulfing, I couldn’t help whispering across the table, wide-eyed, “Did you win?”. He waved me away with a laugh, “Nah, of course we lost.”
By the end of lunch, I still hadn’t had enough and when the Dawes invited us all back to their place for a taste of Alan’s famous home-brewed beer, I was first to say yes! Back at the house, we settled into the backyard for a couple of hours, enjoying Alan’s beer (the finest home brew I’ve ever had the pleasure of drinking) and chewing the fat.
I would be a liar if I said I didn’t notice the liver spots, the wrinkled skin on his upper arms or the unsteadiness of his hand. But when he spoke of his experiences, travelling the world, representing his country, carrying the torch at the Sydney 2000 Olympics, Alan’s age became irrelevant. His stories, his life, took centre stage!
And, later on, when he recounted the anxiety and depression he suffered as an elite sportsperson artlessly falling from the pedestal of fame he became, once again, just a man. But one that still had the power and magic to charm a (relatively) youthful 42½ year old “girl”. Perhaps the day we met will stick in Alan Dawe’s memory as a day he was appreciated and feted (many years after his achievements). More likely, that day will stick in my memory as the day I met a living legend. Either way, it’s a day I’ll never forget (though you never know, my memory ain’t what it used to be).