In praise of aging

A few days ago, on a plane from Sydney to Manila, I struck up a conversation with a man who clearly wanted to talk to me about the APO. Aside from saying how much he liked our songs, he pointed out (as many others are doing more often these days) that we have visibly grown older.

While that was not exactly news to me, it can be quite unnerving at times, although, at other times, I smile to myself wondering why people find aging so surprising. A few years back, my initial reaction would have been a defensive one. I would have paused to worry a bit about its implications on our career, considering that, as showbiz people, we live in a world were aging is negative, a no-no.

Our world has made a cult of youth and put it on a pedestal. We worship youth above all other human characteristics, often even above talent, wisdom and experience. While one may argue that all these are important, they become doubly valuable when the person who has these attributes is also young. It’s a young world, after all. Or rather, it’s a world made for and of the young.

We baby boomers, more than anyone else, should understand this even if we may find ourselves resenting it from time to time. After all, we were young once, and it doesn’t seem like that was too long ago. And when we became parents, we made sure that our children would not have to go through the deprivations we went through while growing up. So in some ways, we too cultivated his cult of youth

More than any past generation, we have stored up memorabilia of our kids growing up. My wife Lydia keeps in neat little folders the drawings and certificates, the medals and prizes earned by our kids from their early years in school. In contrast, I don’t have that many baby pictures. I probably have about three or four photos of myself below five years old. When I was growing up, cameras were expensive and my parents, for sure, had other priorities and things to spend their money on.

Youth is a funny thing. When you have it, you think you will have it forever. You take for granted things such as health, the agility, strength and dexterity of your body and the luxury of time. The future is wide open and is yours for the taking. There is seemingly limitless time to do chores, finish school, be serious, etc.

Sure, you are aware that your parents get older and even if you see it and know that someday you too will get old, when you are young, aging is mostly an intellectual concept. It is something that happens to other people, not to you.

Youth is naturally a time of self-centeredness, and often recklessness with generalizations about life and its meaning and its attendant consequences. That’s because one can often feel lost in the glory, pain, joy, angst, enthusiasm and confusion of youth. Thank God that as we get older, we begin to see clearer. As Ralph Waldo Emerson put it, “The years teach much which the days never knew.”

When the APO had a daily TV show more than 10 years back, our audience did not see us aging physically since they saw us every day. The aging process we (and our audience) were going through was “delivered” in tiny increments so that it was hardly noticeable. But now that we come out on TV less often, sometimes just one appearance every few months, our audience sees the difference. They see our aging as worthy of mention even if they themselves have aged just as much.

I remember being quite shocked at seeing how Quincy Jones had aged when I saw him host a show on CNN about his hometown of Seattle. My “locked memory” of him was this image of a talented “young” black man in his early 40s — suave, cool, a successful player in the world of music. But that physical image of Quincy was who he was in the ‘80s. My image of him had remained static all these years.

While to many people, aging is a signal that one must begin to slow down, I just can’t see myself ever retiring. I can’t see myself (as of now) as someone who will deliberately miss out on what life may still throw my way. I know that my body may be too old to climb Mount Everest (although I still dream of doing it even a quarter of the way), but I subscribe to the saying that one is only as old as one feels.

“How old would you be if you didn’t know how old you were?” This is a question that American baseball legend Satchel Paige asked himself as he began to grow older. It’s a question I also ask myself from time to time.

And while one would like a longer amount of time to enjoy being young, I believe that being young is not necessarily what it’s cracked up to be. It is certainly not a virtue in itself. In many ways, the young can seem older than old people. I find myself often telling my son to tone down the volume of his music player. Is it because it is he, not I, who is hard of hearing?

Lydia and I can manage to wake up early on weekends while my “young” kids are too tired from the night before and need to sleep till noon. And many times, I find I am more flexible in my opinions than many young people I know.

I tell my kids that while aging is inevitable, growing up is not. It is optional. It is something one decides to do that needs to be worked at. And I believe that the sooner one begins work in this direction, the more they can properly utilize and even extend their youth. There is a price for abusing your body with drugs, smoking, bad nutrition, too many late nights, or never outgrowing bad habits. All these speed up physical aging. Who was it who said that we are only young once and after that we need some other excuse?

The irony of it all is that many young people wish they were older and many older ones wish they were young again. That’s probably because while youth may be gifted with capacity, we learn to notice opportunities only at a later age. By then, so much time has been wasted.

The APO is turning 40 in 2009. I am pleased to hear people say we are performing better than ever. For that I am grateful. I know for sure that we are having ever greater times doing what we do. When I look back at many of the shows we have done, say in the ‘80s, there is a bitter-sweetness since my memories are marred by a lot of the feelings I had about myself back then. I was too competitive, too much of a perfectionist, unforgiving of my own mistakes and those of my groupmates. Nothing we did was ever good enough.

These days, we have all mellowed. Sure, the APO house may be a bit battered, but the cracks dealt to it by Father Time have allowed more light to come in and illumine what is inside. Autumn has exposed more of our true colors. And what is true is that we are, more than ever, happy to perform even as we are aware of the limited time we have left.

In a recent TV interview, Cate Blanchett said she wouldn’t want to go back to being 20 even if she had the chance. Our twenties can be such a confusing time. She says she is happy and quite content being where she is now. I feel the same.

Thank God there is now, in the three of us in APO, less of the neurotic obsessions we had as young guns and more appreciation for the beauty that we create with our chemistry. The wrinkles on our faces are where they are meant to be. Time can be a lousy beautician, but it is a great healer.