As children, we could not wait to grow up, and we were impatient for the next party to get the chance to blow out our birthday candles. As teenagers, we yearned for adulthood, and to be seen as responsible people. In our early twenties, we want to be taken seriously, especially if we have just joined the workforce and are at the bottom of the career ladder. We cannot wait to be seen as more mature and experienced.
All this enthusiasm fizzles out when we approach our thirties. Physically, the bloom of youth is beginning to fade, and tell tale signs such as the first wrinkles and fine lines, and perhaps the first grey hair, start to show. Our bodies are less able to keep up and vitality starts to fade. Eventually, people start dreading their birthdays. It becomes socially unacceptable to ask a woman her age, and in any event if she is asked, it is absolutely acceptable for her to lie about it.
This is also an opportunity for cosmetics and pharmaceutical companies to cash in on our insecurities – the market has an abundant supply of anti wrinkle creams and all other mysterious elixirs of youth which can be consumed or applied externally, all with the promise of a glowing new you.
What is the big fear about growing old? Why do people in the forties sometimes try to dress like they are nineteen? Why are human beings so fixated about looking young?
What is so tragic about growing older?
It's not just the gradual loss of beauty and agility.
Fundamentally, is it because as we notice the physical changes which come with getting more mature, we are reminded that death will be the next step? After all, barring an illness or a shocking tragedy, we will get old before we die. The association of the ageing process with death may be subconscious, but it is there every time we look in the mirror and realize that we do not look as good as we did in our teenage and early twenties. Is a birthday an uncomfortable reminder that the finish line is getting one step closer? Does the next birthday prompt us to think of something that we would rather not address?
If it is death that we fear, surely we know that we cannot avoid the angel of death by a bit of make up and anti-ageing cream?
But in the meantime, what is all the fuss about? Why do so many people dread their birthdays, moaning and complaining about how old they feel and how they wish they were younger?
Most people, as they get older, demonstrate a total lack of gratitude to the Creator for allowing them to live a year longer! They complain about the wrinkles, sagging skin, weight gain, heedless of the fact that the alternative would have been an early death.
The true tragedy is not so much growing older, but having wasted your entire life in getting there!
If you spent your life on frivolities, living in heedlessness, leading empty lives, then getting old is a tragic event. If you wake up one day and realize that the best of your physical ability has been spent on spiritually empty and useless endeavours, the tragedy is that you would have nothing to show for your lives. The lucky ones may turn their lives around upon such realisation, but while they may gain the forgiveness from their Creator for a lifetime of error, they will never regain all the missing years and decades, where a stronger body and a more receptive memory would have made it much easier for them to learn about and work for the Creator.
The tragedy, however, would be to not take steps to change their lives and start preparing for their inevitable meeting with their Creator. No matter whether you are old or young. Those who persist with their bad habits, ignorance, and heedlessness to the Creator, even as their bodies give them strong hints that death is the next step. What an ultimate loss that would be! How meaningless and empty the next birthday would be!
There is nothing wrong with growing old. It is part of the cycle of life in this world. The bodies that house our souls go through phases, and the final phase is its deterioration. We need not obsess on it, because our bodies are mere shells. They are temporary, they are a mere conduit for our souls during our time here on earth, and will be discarded when our souls depart into the realm of death.
Our bodies do not really belong to us, we are holding it on trust, and the obligation we have is to treat our bodies with justice, and not attempt to make them look younger than they are supposed to with unnatural procedures, medication and artificial colouring.
Yet all of us dream of the ultimate combination, to live forever, but to stay young. Is this possible? Yes, those whose souls are destined for Jannah, will dwell in there forever, will enjoy infinite life and eternal youth.
Our souls live forever. If there is any maintenance which is necessary, it is our souls that we should focus on. When we are resurrected, our botox or hair dye will be irrelevant, because the beauty of our souls will radiate with our good deeds, not by our physical looks. And if it is that secret dream of being young and beautiful forever, it is not the cosmetics that will get you there, but your accumulation of good deeds and of course, by the mercy of your Creator.
So the next time a birthday comes around, thank Allah that He has let you live a day longer, a week longer, a year longer. Thank Allah that your appointment with the angel of death has not yet occurred.
You still have the chance to turn to Allah, build up good deeds and repent for the bad deeds. Every day is a new chance for you. Ysou still have the chance to beg Allah for a life filled with His blessings. So, no matter what your age, the next birthday can be a beautiful thing if you have spent the year working and getting close to Allah.
There is no tragedy in growing old. The real tragedy is wasting your life in the process.