10 April 2023

When you turn 80…

Eighty, as in ’80 years old’? Yes. The response to any suggestion of turning 80 varies depending on the age of the respondent. Someone who is 75, it’s not too far away. Someone who is sixty might think, ‘there’s time to ponder that one,’ or ‘I won’t get there, so there’s no point thinking about it.’

Since there are very few people who are that age or close to it, the vast majority of a decent sample of the population that’s representative of all ages would lean towards dismissing the question ‘what would you be doing when you turn 80?’ Silly, not relevant, for later. Dismissive. Understandable.

There’s a way of obtaining at least a half-way decent interest in this. Pick an age. Let’s say 57. Ask the person if, at the age of 27, he or she ever thought of being 57 years of age. Or thereabouts. How about when he or she was 20 or 13? At that age, did you ever think you would turn 35, forget 80? Probably not. Even if you did, it would have been a thought that just came randomly or, if it didn’t, was quickly replaced with something more in tune with ‘the here and now.’  

Where we have come from and where we might end are often pushed to the periphery by where we happen to be right now. We are in some ‘here’ and at a ‘now’. Places we’ve been to, places we may go to, time that has passed and time yet to come are not entirely irrelevant, but then again, a moment a long way into the future just doesn’t seem to warrant too much thought.  

Unless you know someone that age. Unless that age is present in the form of concern and love for the person. And you wonder, ‘what will I be like when I reach that age?’

Life is tough as it is, so why spend time and devote thought to things that don’t fascinate, one can ask. True. There are always things that require immediate attention. Simple things like having to catch a bus, wondering how to pay utility bills, being anxious about children etc.

We could bury the past, telling ourselves that it’s all done and we can’t do anything about it. The past won’t remain buried, though. For convenience, let’s ignore all that. The future? It is present even if only in a ‘near’ and not ‘at 80’ sense. And we move from a now of doing what needs to be done and thinking about what needs to be done next to doing that ‘next thing’ and wondering about the next to next thing. And we find ourselves at 80. Well, at 65 or 40 or 23, depending on our age.

I remember an ’80 moment’ when I was about 45. It was at a future-place, a home for the elderly in Panadura, Gorakapola David Jayasundara Vedihiti Nivasaya. An alms-giving in memory of my mother who had recently passed away. One of her students who was present said, ‘this is my future.’ There was anxiety in his voice and in his eyes. He had extrapolated.

We, typically, do not.

A few days ago, my friend Chandi Jayawardena, gifted me some books written by his father, Ranathunga Don Karunadasa Jayawardena, a novel, the script of a play and a collection of poetry. ‘These he wrote after he turned 80,’ Chandi said.  

It’s not that Chandi’s father started writing when he turned 80, but I thought to myself, ’80 is as good an age as any to write a novel.’ Or a poem. Take up painting. Learn nail-art. Sculpt. And then, almost immediately, it occurred to me that any of these exercises and any other of the innumerable pursuits available can be embraced at any given moment.

Not because you will turn 80 one day and find nothing to do or realise that you’ve really not done much or lived much, but because there’s time that passes and passes us by while we do nothing.

Well, we do something. Even sleep is a ‘thing’. Reflection is a thing too. And yet there’s time we blow away and, when we’ve done quite a bit of blowing away and reach a certain age, wonder ‘where did the years go?’

Write a book when you turn 80. That’s something we can tell anyone who hasn’t turned 80. That’s something we can all tell ourselves if we happened to be 79 years of age, 57, 32 or any age in fact.

Options. Write a book. A poem. Watch a movie or make one. Plant a tree. Feed a stray dog. Share your food. Say sorry. Stand up when tyranny insists, ‘sit down!’ Speak when silence is sought to be obtained through coercion. Say ‘I love you,’ regardless of the consequences simply because it is the only way to be honest to yourself.

We don’t have to wait until we are 80.

['The Morning Inspection' is the title of a column I wrote for the Daily News from 2009 to 2011, one article a day, Monday through Saturday. This is a new series. Links to previous articles in this new series are given below]

Other articles in this series:

It is good to be conscious of nudities 

Saturday slides in after Monday and Sunday somersaults into Friday

There's a one in a million and a one in ten

Gunadasa Kapuge is calling

Kumkum Fernando installs Sri Lanka in Coachella, California

Hemantha Gunawardena's signature

Pathways missed

Architectures of the demolished

The exotic lunacy of parting gifts

Who the heck do you think I am?

Those fascinating 'Chitra Katha'

The Mangala Sabhava

So how are things in Sri Lanka?

The most beautiful father

Palmam qui meruit ferat

The sweetest three-letter poem

Buddhangala Kamatahan

An Irish and Sri Lankan Hello

Teams, team-thinking, team-spirit and leadership

The songs we could sing in lifeboats when we are shipwrecked

Pure-Rathna, a class act

Jekhan Aruliah set a ball rolling in Jaffna

Awaiting arrivals unlike any other

Teachers and students sometimes reverse roles

Matters of honor and dignity

Yet another Mother's Day

A cockroach named 'Don't'

Colombo, Colombo, Colombo and so forth

The slowest road to Kumarigama, Ampara

Sweeping the clutter away

Some play music, others listen

Completing unfinished texts

Mind and hearts, loquacious and taciturn

I am at Jaga Food, where are you?

On separating the missing from the disappeared

Moments without tenses

And intangible republics will save the day (as they always have)

The world is made of waves


The circuitous logic of Tony Muller

Rohana Kalyanaratne, an unforgettable 'Loku Aiya'

Mowgli, the Greatest Archaeologist

Figures and disfigurement, rocks and roses

Sujith Rathnayake and incarcerations imposed and embraced

Some stories are written on the covers themselves

A poetic enclave in the Republic of Literature

Landcapes of gone-time and going-time 

The best insurance against the loud and repeated lie

So what if the best flutes will not go to the best flautists?

There's dust and words awaiting us at crossroads and crosswords

The books of disquiet

A song of terraced paddy fields

Of ants, bridges and possibilities

From A through Aardvark to Zyzzyva 

World's End

Words, their potency, appropriation and abuse

Street corner stories

Who did not listen, who's not listening still?

The book of layering

If you remember Kobe, visit GOAT Mountain

The world is made for re-colouring

The gift and yoke of bastardy

The 'English Smile'

No 27, Dickman's Road, Colombo 5

Visual cartographers and cartography

Ithaca from a long ago and right now

Lessons written in invisible ink

The amazing quality of 'equal-kindness'

A tea-maker story seldom told

On academic activism

The interchangeability of light and darkness

Back to TRADITIONAL rice

Sisterhood: moments, just moments

Chess is my life and perhaps your too

Reflections on ownership and belonging

The integrity of Nadeesha Rajapaksha

Signatures in the seasons of love

To Maceo Martinet as he flies over rainbows

Sirith, like pirith, persist

Fragrances that will not be bottled 

Colours and textures of living heritage

Countries of the past, present and future

A degree in creative excuses

Books launched and not-yet-launched

The sunrise as viewed from sacred mountains

The ways of the lotus

Isaiah 58: 12-16 and the true meaning of grace

The age of Frederick Algernon Trotteville

Live and tell the tale as you will

Between struggle and cooperation

Of love and other intangibles

Neruda, Sekara and literary dimensions

The universe of smallness

Paul Christopher's heart of many chambers

Calmness gracefully cascades in the Dumbara Hills

Serendipitous amber rules the world

Continents of the heart