Aging is a perspective thing. Footnote To Myself #6

Balinese ceremonies: marking time

life sharing baliTraditionally, Balinese do not celebrate their age. They only remember the day (Thursday for example) they were born. To the Balinese, aging is about travelling through the ritual of ceremonies… touching the ground for the first time at three months; the tooth filing ceremony to mark passage into adulthood; wedding ceremonies; birth ceremonies; even death and funerals are a ceremony in Bali.

What is interesting about Balinese ceremonies is that they aren’t generally specific to the individual. It is more about the family and the village and the sense of the community, which is why the temple—and temple ceremonies—are so important to the Balinese, and Balinese culture.

It is changing though, and children’s birthday parties—a la the west—are starting to invade traditional Balinese life.

Questions of place

When I travel alone throughout SE Asia, I am invariably seen as a curiosity. Word gets around, and I am bombarded with questions. Lots of them. What would be seen as impolite in Western culture, is a way to “place me”, to see how and where I fit.

I know they look at me with pity when they realise I am sendiri (alone), because the Western concept of striking out alone is truly foreign to the Balinese. When I respond to their questions in Indonesian, I surprise them. I hear mutterings and murmurings about my age as they chat among themselves.

The big question though, the biggest, is saved for the bravest interrogator, nominated by an unspoken process: how old am I?

When I tell them my age—fifty three—much discussion occurs.

And the reaction is usually one of bemusement. The consensus is that I am “very strong”. They openly compare the soft rolls around their middles to my lean body and giggle.

Never been fitter or healthier

This is not an unusual situation. It happens more often than not. But it’s a quiet reminder that at 53, I have never been fitter or healthier. I have never felt better about being “me”right now.

I mark my time not in years, but in fitness and health. Aging—for me, anyway— is not a mourning of lost youth (as is often the case among Westerners), but a celebration of me-ness, of what I’ve achieved, and am yet to achieve. I celebrate aging as a privilege not afforded to many, and I celebrate it by grasping life with both hands.

The decision to make Sharing Bali my way of life has much to do with how I feel about my age.

I quietly say “thank you” as often as I can.



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