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Bruna Swerts – October 3, 2022

“To be a rock and not to roll.”

That sentence has been causing me pain since I was 14 years old, too young – no, the correct term is under-aged – to be doing all the things I was doing while listening to Stairway to Heaven for the first time. Since then, Led Zeppelin became my all-time favourite band. I honestly don’t care how cliché it sounds. I have been in love with them ever since, and a woman in love is a force of nature. Robert Plant’s mane may not look as wild and majestic as it once did, and Jimmy Page, well, Jimmy Page sport an all-white mane of his own now, but should they get together one more time and go on tour, I would be the first to drop everything I am doing to follow them as the most devoted groupie. Except that they are not doing that – they are not doing that because they are old, a bit too old to do what they did some five, six decades ago.

A journalist without a reliable source does not look good – fortunately, I am not considered one, so I get to run fast and loose as I recall what I once read about Robert Plant not being willing to embark on a reunion, claiming that his voice changed (he might have said deteriorated, but I cannot bring myself to say such obscenity about him) at a much faster pace than Page’s finger skills. Basically, he said that while a guitar solo may sound the same as it did half a decade ago in the hands of the same musician, a singer’s throat does not get to be graced the same way.

Oh, it makes me wonder… Are we ready to admit it, once we get too old to rock ‘n roll? Over the weekend, I was responsible for the copy on our celebratory post for the International Day of Older Persons across social media platforms. Social media being social media, you cannot post a word without offending someone, as I was bound to: apparently, saying that older people get to savour a life of rich experiences and lifelong knowledge is “fetishizing the business of growing older.”

Rich experiences are not good nor bad, they are rich in the sense that they add up, and contribute to something. My great-grandmother, whom I was fortunate to meet and enjoy the company until her passing at an impressive 106 years old, got to accumulate rich experiences alright. She was born on a boat in the middle of the Amazon river. Her mother died during childbirth. Her father, unknown and lost to us, handed her over to a family who lived in a desert wasteland currently known as the Brazilian province of Ceará. Do yourself a favour and do not look up the 2022, embellished-for-tourism version of the place. If you are going to take the trouble to read about it, start your research at the end of the XIX century. Among other things, she got to witness Lampião riding across her family’s property (and the ubiquitous crossfire that followed suit). At the age of 13, she was sold – I am sorry but not sorry for the lack of a less offensive and crude word to you, dear reader – to a 30-something man, recently arrived from Spain, who fled Europe to run away from trouble. The said man went on to become my great-grandfather, and together they had 11 children. Over half of them died before they reached the age of five. One of them, my grandmother, went on to have another ten children of her own, whom my great-grandmother – yes, the Amazonian mermaid – helped to raise and feed, only to see yet again a few of them die before reaching old age.

Great-grandma Francisca (I get to call her vovó Chiquinha) got to savour a life full of rich experiences and accumulate lifelong knowledge. But rich experiences are not always pleasant, are they? And knowledge comes at a cost, from a store-bought book to a painful hard-learned lesson, does it not? But so she did, just like your grandma and your friend’s uncle and your neighbor’s friend and everyone above 65 – because that is the cut, isn’t it? If that was the case, my paternal grandparents, bless their hearts, both dead at 59, never lived enough to be part of such demographic. Yet they had white hair, they wore prescription glasses, and one of them got to sport a pacemaker after enduring six bypass surgeries, with a complimentary cane to assist him in walking.

I am sorry but not sorry for the 59-year-olds and above out there who get to enjoy a life of CrossFit sessions in the morning, productive business meetings between noon and 5 p.m., and cocktail drinks, vegan meals, fashionable latte or whatever they fancy over happy hour, who might get offended by this very personal idea of mine of being an older person. My older people – my great-grandparents, my grandparents, my parents, uncles and aunts are not “fetishized.” They all suffer from mobility issues, hearing loss, hair loss, bone mass loss, and visual impairment, not to mention the daily, subtle abuse that takes place anywhere from the supermarket to the health clinic. My older people are, indeed, the product of the business of growing older in a place (like so many) that still does little to educate and assure that society gets to lead a healthy, functional lifestyle that can be sustained a few decades beyond retirement age. My older people do not get to be offended on social media, because most of them never had access to it.

I can handle being accused of stereotyping and ageism amidst my ignorance of a 40-year-old person. Hopefully, I will get to live long enough to have rich experiences and lifelong knowledge under my belt that might make up for that. Hopefully, I will get to live long enough to become an old person myself, unlike so many less-fortunate people in my family.

Illustration by Ritesh Rohan @theshadesofmeaning


Bruna Swerts is the columnist for IFA’s The Storyteller. She truly believes that given the opportunity, every person (regardless of age) has good stories to tell – so it is up to passionately creative people like herself to capture and preserve them.
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