Getting older, growing younger Essay

GETTING OLDER, GROWING YOUNGER Strangely enough, it was the rebellious Christina, Queen of Swedenwho abdicated and shocked all Europe, who said: “To live and todie beautifully is the Science of Sciences.’ Everybody has to grow old; that is inevitable, but with modernScience and modern thinking there are people who, despite their age,appear to become younger year by year. The most discerning man in New York, with a very critical eye,telephoned me two days ago and said he had just seen Lillian Gish andClaudette Colbert and they both looked “fabulous.’ No older person will ever forget how entrancing Lillian Gish lookedin the film Birth of a Nation. Her sensitivity, her sweetness andfragility were like a light in the darkness. And now at 87, she’s still beautiful.

Claudette Colbert, a few years ago, told the secret of her eternal,spiritual fascination. When a columnist asked her: “What keepsyou looking and feeling so young?’ She answered: “Notworrying about looking and feeling so young!’ She is now 76 and she also explained why her marriage to an ear,nose and throat specialist lasted for 32 years. “A wife,’ she said, “should not bore her husbandwith her petty ills. He never knew what picture I was in from one yearto the next.’ Last year I was on Katie Boyle’s “This Is Your Life’television show. Among her other friends I found Evelyn Laye, whom Ihad not seen for ages. At 83 she looked wonderful and was still acting.How beautiful she was and how brilliantly she sang in Bitter Sweet, bothin New York, where she stopped the show night after night, and later inEngland.

Today she still has that charisma which is ageless. When in 1978 I sang An Album of Love Songs with the RoyalPhilharmonic Orchestra, I said to my producer Norman Newell: “AllI want is to be able to hear myself when travelling in a very fastcar!’ The only two singers I can hear at more than 70 miles an hour areFrank Sinatra and Perry Como. Their elocution is marvellous and so istheir appearance. At 66 Frank Sinatra has a benign look and his blueeyes still twinkle beguilingly. While at 71–the seventh son of aseventh son–Perry Como’s records are both romantic and relaxing. I have said in my Will that his rendering of I Believe is to beplayed at my funeral. Looking over the world one can find many people whom “age hasnot withered.’ When I first visited Jaipur and its Pink Palaces in1958, the Maharajah and his wife, Ayesha, acknowledged to be the mostbeautiful woman in the world, were like two people out of a fairy tale.

Today the Rajmata, at 64, still has a loveliness which is ashaunting and irresistible as the East. Hers is certainly not just a”pretty face.’ She was the first Maharanee to be elected as aMember of Parliament and she travelled thousands of miles electioneeringover sun-baked India in a Landrover. She beat her opponent by 750,000votes. She now helps her son, the present Maharajah, to run the Palaces atleast one of which has become an hotel and to bring the age-old customsof Jaipur up to date. In the summer I entertained Queen Farida of Egypt. She hasestablished herself as an artist, and at 62 she has the same beauty andfascinating smile which at 16 made the then slim and handsome18-year-old King Farouk fall madly in love with her. She told me:”Ours was a passionate love marriage!’ I was so annoyed that Ihad not put them in my book, Romantic Royal Marriages.

Queen Farida bore three daughters before the marriage was dissolvedbecause King Farouk wanted a son. He still loved her so much, however,that he decreed that she was always to be called “Queen ofEgypt.’ “I love like an Englishman, think like a Frenchman, and writelike a Russian,’ says Peter Ustinov. At 62 his looks, like hiswit, have improved with age! It is intriguing to learn that his fatherwas a chef, and his mother a midwife of the Tzars. What I am leading up to is: What keeps all these people lookingyoung and feeling young? I remember when I was six thinking that my grandmother was veryold. She certainly looked it. Although she was a very handsome womanshe wore in the daytime a purple velvet dress trailing on the floor,with a collar of real lace. I now realize that she was 52 at the time, which today we all of usdefinitely consider young! This makes me certain, from my own experience, that age begins inthe brain.

When I was a County Councillor for Hertfordshire for nine years, Istarted, in 1955, making a great deal of fuss about Council Homes. Atthat particular time, all over England, old people were more or lessneglected. They went into Homes which in many cases were convertedworkhouses, and they just sat and waited to die. There was practicallyno occupational therapy, no visitors, and of course, very littletelevision to encourage their brain to remain active. Their onlyoccupation was to fight fiercely for their favourite chair, holding itagainst all comers. It was then I realized that age was in the mind, and if one”thought’ old, one became old.

What it really comes down to is keeping your brain active, andtaking an intelligent interest in new ideas, new projects and newactivities. That is the first stage towards keeping young and repellingthe senility of which we all, if we are honest, are afraid. Earl Mountbatten of Burma used to say to me over and over again:”I don’t want to live so long that I become useless.’ What I think was at the back of his mind was the haunting horrorthat he might one day become like that great and famous man Sir WinstonChurchill in the last years of his life.

I knew Sir Winston first in 1922 when his brain was like a chamois jumping from rock to rock and whenever he was at a party he activatedeverybody else. In fact, as I have said of so many different leaders,when he came into a room, the tempo rose. All his life, until the last few years, he had the marvellousfacility of making people around him feel more alive as they respondedto his magnetism.

I am completely convinced that the only reason in the end why hebecame a poor, fumbling old man not realizing what was happening aroundhim was that his doctor–as he acknowledged later in his biography–gaveSir Winston a sleeping pill every night. When I was in Leningrad in 1978 I went to talk to some scientists,as I always do when I visit other countries, and I asked: “Whatare you working on?’ “The brain,’ they replied. “So am I!’ I said. They were very excited because they had women of 90 who were doinga full day’s work–and I am sure a full day’s work in Russiais a full day’s work! At the time they were recommending Vitamin B15 combined withGinseng, which they told me was fantastic. I was so impressed Ipersuaded the scientists in England to make up the same formula when Ireturned home. I am quite certain that in Russia the women who were being treateddid not receive and could not buy the millions of tranquillizers,sedatives and sleeping pills which are more or less forced upon thepublic in Western countries, including, to a certain extent, America. Last year we, the tax-payers of Britain, spent 40,000,000 pounds ofthe money that went to the National Health Service on diazepam (underthe brand-name Valium) alone. With this figure we could have boughtfour jet fighters for our safety and freedom.

I answer 10,000 letters a year from all over the world, and a verygreat number of them beg me to tell them how to “get off’ (asthey put it) diazepam, chlordiazepoxide and nitrazepam (marketed in theU.K. as Valium, Librium, Mogadon) and a whole range of drugs. These, theytell me, seem to be making them feel more apathetic, more depressed andmore nervous than when they first started taking them. This is the terrifying effect of sedatives, and many are alsoaccumulative and addictive. I must add one thing: I have never known a doctor tell any patientthat all these drugs ruin and inhibit one’s sex life.

I get pathetic letters from women saying they have been very happywith their husbands and although they were getting older they werealways able to make love continually and satisfactorily, until suddenlyit has stopped. I find the alteration invariably comes from the fact that one ofthem has been given a tranquillizer of some sort by the doctor. All tranquillizers and sedatives kill sex! This, I believe, is something that should be publicized so thateverybody is aware of it. While I am talking of things that affect the brain, I must mentionthat Aspirin, which is so freely publicized on the television, can bejust as dangerous as any tranquillizer. One of our famous Statesmen hada bleeding ulcer which came from taking too much Aspirin. Overdosagecan also cause a loss of hearing, and undoubtedly encourages kidneystones. Also women often say to me: “I can’t think what ishappening! My hair is getting so thin, and I have a bald patch on thetop!’ Sure enough, they are taking Aspirin, which in my opinionseriously affects the amount of Vitamin B and Vitamin C in the system.

Actually, taken in large quantities during pregenancy, Aspirin canproduce a deformed child, and yet very few people are told that! In just the same way, we have only recently learned that smokingcan affect not only the person who smokes, and give them lung cancer,but also the people with whom they come in contact–their wives, theirhusbands, their children and even those who share an office with them. This information is now reaching the general public, and women whosmoke while they are pregnant have seen on television the terribledangers to the baby’s growth, health, and even life. They shouldbe aware that 2,000 newborn babies died in Britain last year because,among other things, their mothers smoked during pregnancy. All these dangers are something that our brain has to understandand absorb.

There is in fact so much for the average person to remember intheir efforts to keep young and healthy in a world that has beenpolluted by chemicals, that it is quite difficult to realize the dangerswe all of us run every day. Thank goodness Preventive Medicine has suddenly come to the fore.When Prince Charles praised it in a speech the other day I was sothrilled because to me it has been a personal fight. At last people arebeginning to realize the difference Preventive Medicine can make to theordinary person who wants to keep well. None of us really wants to live to be over a hundred, but we dowant to “live young,’ and that is possible if, to start with,we “think’ right.

Scientists have been telling us for years that we use only ten percent of our brain, and it is possible to make one’s brain improveand enlarge every year that one lives. For the brain to be active, thebody must be active too, and this is where the old-fashioned idea that”Granny likes to sit by the fire knitting,’ or that “oldpeople need peace and quiet,’ is a lot of nonsense. What old people need are interests, and it is fatal to let themthink they are out-of-date, unwanted and an encumbrance.

In Italy and other European countries the family is a unit. It hasalways interested me when I travel through France to see that on Sunday,in every restaurant, even the most expensive kind, you will see thefamily having their weekly outing. There are father, mother andchildren of all ages, and the grandmother and grandfather are there too!But it is not only on Sundays that they are an inseparable part of thefamily. They live and work together, and they are united by love. In England it is the opposite. Granny and Grandpa are pushed toone side, and it is not only the old men and women who sit in Councilhomes who are seldom visited or not at all.

It is the same throughoutour society. If a son inherits an ancestral mansion, his widowed mother isconsigned to the Dower House, or today more often to a small cottage,and is more or less forgotten. It is so difficult to alter traditions and therefore all I can sayto those who have grown older is: “Think about yourself and make alife of your own by finding a niche where you are wanted and will beappreciated.’ When I look around at the enormous number of people I know all overthe world, I find it is not those who are rich who are happy, it isthose who are working. The busiest people have always been those who seem to radiate a joyof life, which the French call joie de vivre and which is somethingwhich is not confined to the young but to those who have developed theirbrain.

Joie de vivre comes from the brain, and of course, the heart. Itis a capacity for enjoying everything, big or small, around you; it isan appreciation of beauty and, I think too, a gratitude for being alive. So few of us, when we thank God for the big or small mercies thathave been accorded us, remember to thank for Life itself–and what couldbe a more wonderful gift? When some people look up at the stars and think that each one mayhave other planets like our own, it makes them feel small andinsignificant.

But I think actually that if there are billions andbillions of other people living in an enormous hemisphere, then it is aprivilege and a delight to think that I am one of them, and we share onething in common: the Life Force that can never die. There is no such thing as death! How can there be? It is only theshedding of a worn out “suit of clothes’ which we call a body,and the life within us goes on to find another one. I believe in reincarnation for the simple reason that it is theonly thing that can possibly justify the continuing existence of life,and that in nature nothing is lost. The most wonderful and the most valuable thing we possess is thebody. It is only through the body that we learn and advance bothspiritually and mentally. The body is the most intricate, the most fantastic and the mostingenious machine ever created.

And yet how badly we treat it! It isextraordinary to me how little care people take of their bodies. I do not mean going up in an unsafe aeroplane, fighting in wars, ordrinking before driving a car, but in ordinary everyday life peopletreat their bodies far worse than they would treat any vehicle theyowned. And yet, knowing its value, knowing how much it means to each oneof us personally, we take no trouble to learn about the workings of thebody and its needs, but just take for granted that it is there! The body is, of course, activated by the brain: the most importantpart of us. And so we get back to what I have been saying:–that the brain isthe first thing we must consider, study and understand if we wish tokeep young. We should not say someone is “young in heart,’ but”young in mind,’ for that is what counts.

Photo: When she’s not writing romantic novels, 82-years-youngBarbara Cartland travels the world and preaches her sermon of”living young, looking young and being beautiful both inside andout.’

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