Up Front and Personal

What’s in a Number?

by Maureen Pratt

This month, I will celebrate a milestone birthday. I’ve done the math and know what the numbers say, but I have to beg to differ: I do not feel like my age, not by a mile. My optimism and faith, life graced with God’s goodness and wonderful friends and family — these bring a sense of youth that not even lupus flares erase. And, I know I’m not the only one who feels younger or older than her (or his) age:

According to news reports, in 2018, a Dutchman was so convinced that he was younger than his numerical age and could benefit from actually being younger that he took legal steps to make it so.

Emile Ratelband, who was 69 at the time, petitioned a court in the Netherlands to allow him to alter the date on his birth certificate and officially shave 20 years off his age, going from 69 to 49.

But Ratelband’s effort was for naught; although he even reportedly offered to postpone his pension for 20 years, in December 2018 the court ruled against him, and his numerical age stands. However, the BBC reported, the judges said Ratelband “is at liberty to feel 20 years younger than his real age and to act accordingly.”

Which brings me back to my starting point: Without “court approval,” there still are many like Ratelband who feel, act and think younger than time on earth would indicate, people who defy figurative, age-based gravity.

Clearly, age doesn’t have to correlate with specific activities that we take up or give up. Rather, there is more of a mindset to it, a way of approaching it where its numerical reality isn’t the benchmark by which we live and act on our dreams, hopes and what God wants us to do.

And, there are more resources for persons who are aging to stay active and explore new interests, beginning or exciting second and even third acts.

As my milestone birthday approaches, I take great heart that I needn’t suddenly adapt to some preconceived notions of what this new age means. Rather, I’m inspired by the examples close to me and from ages past of people who acted on God’s direction no matter when they discerned it. And I am grateful for this time, no matter how it is calculated numerically.

What’s in a number? Reason to celebrate, certainly, and joy-filled potential!


Pratt writes for Catholic News Service.

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