Thursday, March 17, 2011

Measurement and Convention

"As you get older, you still seek the meaning of life, but it becomes more important to seek it in good company and in pleasant places and with 4 o'clock cocktails."
"In the end you don't so much find yourself as you find someone who knows who you are."
Robert Brault

When I first came to Vienna, in 2006, the first thing I loved about this city was its measures for clothing. Without any dieting or physical strain, without having to go back in time in search of my last 2 university years, without any effort at all, I found out one sunny Sunday that I was an “S” again! An excellent welcome, a great and immediate boost for my mood and spirit (and disastrous for my budget of course –some minimum rules of equilibrium and compensation must be obeyed in this world...).

Almost everywhere in the world nowadays, there are various numbers on dresses and shoes, intimate articles and stockings. Some also have nice tables shedding some light on the correspondence between those numbers and your actual need; others must be tried on before deciding whether to take them home with you.

Let’s take another example, the BMI computation. There are different ways of computing “Body-Mass Index” and even for the same formula the normal vs. under- or overweight standards are different from country to country. Again, I have to point out what nice people live in Vienna – they adjust the standard according to sex and age! Metrics for height, weight, temperature are different across cultures. The writing is also a matter of convention – Latin, Cyrillic, Greek, and Chinese and so on.

What about religious holidays for Orthodox Christians? There is a difference of 13 days between the “old” calendar of religious holidays and the “new” one. My boss explains it very nicely, but as I do not have his know-how, I send you to Wikipedia instead – it will do just fine! .

The year counting - before and after Jesus, another pure measurement by convention. Nobody actually believes that the people living 200 b.C. woke up one morning and said “today we start counting those 200 years that are left until He will be born”. Even the idea of time is a convention, applied for measuring the cyclical successions of day& night, winter, spring, summer and autumn. We all know however that the perception of time is actually highly related to the activities, feelings and perceptions. Happy moments fly by, while waiting for something important seems always endless.

Earlier this month I was writing about my perception of life stages. I received various comments, on the blog and on my personal email. Somebody said that there are people in this world that never experience all those stages (even if they live to be 90 yo). Other said that the list could be extended with several intermediary stages. There was also the question why should we connect certain ages with admission to a next stage. The general answer would be that it was an essay and not a study. It was about not giving up on our early life stages when we grow older. It should be possible to enjoy simple things just like kids do, love with intense passion just like teenagers and assume responsibility for our action just like adults - no matter what our conventional age is.

I am of course aware that some people do not have a childhood, others never mature, while some are already old before they turn 14. As a small divagation, I have recently seen the movie “True Grit”, a dramatic story about one such young old lady. There are scenes that can be considered “black humor” in that movie. I cannot stop from thinking that the humor side can only be experienced by XXIst century people sitting comfortably on their chairs, eating popcorn while watching a screen; for those that actually lived such lives I believe it was only about the “black” part.

Just to conclude, all the comments that I receive in general are enormously valuable, because I do not attempt to uncover any universal truth while writing. I also do not research, do not cross-check what I think against world’s global problems or against what the great minds think. I am convinced that a lot of people out there think better and faster, and then write more interesting stuff. Still, I am happy to scratch the surface on those things that pop happily inside my head, and then trigger you to think further than I do.

This is why, according to this pattern, when a nice thought passed through my mind tonight, I wanted to share it with you: age is conventionally measured from the date of our birth. I do not know why we do not measure like in the “b.C.” convention, as the time left until we have to go and meet who/whatever may be on the other side. Or as the number of life-changing experiences that we have. For example, instead of saying “I am 50 years old”, we could say I am “45 years-to-go” old, or “I am 2 parents, 1 sister (and respective brother-in-law), 4 cousins, 5 nephews, 15 weddings, 20 baptizing, 10 funerals, 14 countries, 3 continents and 5 great friends” old.

I believe Peter (this blog's host) published once a nice editorial, about a sophisticated computation revealing how much time he has left, according to several criteria. There are various calculators available on the internet, returning personalized life expectation. I especially like the outcome of one “short version”, which I did in one minute and returned a generous result “50 percent of the time you will die between 80 and 96.5 years of age”. I presume it works great with my big cat profile, as I am supposed to experience about 7 deaths in a lifetime (I am talking about my sign –Leo; just in case you wonder about my sanity…). It is a good thing if I start dying at 80 and can carry out half of my dying until 96.5...

Getting back to serious things, I am happy there is a nice convention measuring age, but I would also not rely very much on it for forecasting what lies ahead. You can wake up being 25 or 52, and enjoy your day all the same. I even tend to believe that from a certain point, the younger you get in terms of ‘remaining age’, the better you know how to enjoy the sun shine or the rain smell, and life in general.

There is of course the other side of the coin, getting weaker and sicker, but then the attitude can also make the difference. Wining and being afraid never helps, fighting it is better. My grandmother used to say that she is not going to survive the year ever since I met her (in her 70s), she had a lot of aches and pains and chronic things. But on the other side she was a bundle of joy, laughing and playing tricks on us every day, loving and welcoming guests in her house. Working from dusk till dawn and helping others. Her mind was sharp and her spirit young and she lived well in her 90s.

There are also people that are getting bitter with every year or each new experience. But these dark sides of aging are simply not part of my thoughts tonight. They are usually not part of my thoughts in general, because I belong to the other half of old young ladies – the ones that enjoy aging. Like good wine - time is supposed to improve the quality. And so it does!

Georgina Popescu

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