I had the pleasure of bumping into Tobie here at the radio station's studios. He's a tad older than I am and it was nice seeing him again. We lived a short distance from each other when I was much younger and it was nice spending a few moments talking about life. Neither of us are spring chickens and so it was interesting ferreting out how he was making sense of aging. He knows that I shall be playing a couple of sound clips from our conversation for you here in this show because they are deeply inspiring and serve as a useful reference point for younger men and women.

Tobie is so very different from many of the other people I've met over the years. Many folk have come to me for some professional advice to help them deal with their difficulties and experiences around aging. One elderly man recently came to see me because he had sunken into a deep depression after his retirement. He no longer found energy enough to get up off of the sofa and get on with living. Life was full of emptiness and procrastination and it had begun to threaten his long-term marriage. His wife was still very active and had zest for life, whereas he had apparently lost it completely and she was becoming bored with his isolation and lack of enthusiasm. He was merely three years into his retirement, was relatively good health and there seemed no reason for his endless slouching in front of the television, barking orders to the kitchen for another sandwich and a replenished gin and tonic. Prior to retiring, this man held down a very important job as a CEO of a very big company in Johannesburg. He now teetered on the brink of depression and had completely lost his Mojo.

I've seen this pattern in others before (I know that I'm about to generalise but this generalisation has a ring of truth to it) — the wife spends her life engaged in multiple, parallel interest streams such as her career, running a household, raising a family and maintaining a healthy social network. He has a narrower but perhaps more intense focus in building his career in order to be the best husband and father he can. He provides well and sometimes slips out with his mates for a little sports activity or for a pint or two watching rugby at the pub. Her activities continue through her transition into her more senior years, providing her with continuity as she ages. For him it is a completely different kettle of fish. He arrives at work on the last Friday of his employment, very much in charge of a large staff complement in a large organisation but by that very afternoon, he's received his long service award, made his final speech, shaken everyone's hand and retired out of the office for good. Her transition is a slow cross fade; his is an abrupt cutover, more like a switch that flips. She has had ample time to morph into a new rendition of herself; he's lost and is only now forced to redefine himself. As he mulls over things on the Monday morning after his farewell party, he might fantasise over endless games of golf with his mates as he revels in the freedom of reading his newspaper over a cup of coffee in bed. He now has all the time to come and go at leisure. Perhaps he looks forward to actively pursuing some of his hobbies and travelling to many of the world's exotic destinations and this may well happen in the early part of his retirement. There can however be awfully long gaps between rounds of golf and the occasional holiday. These intervals can be very lonely and are often devoid of meaning and purpose.

For heterosexual men and women there is usually a socially approved, largely chronological map that guides them through the various phases of life: boys and girls play childhood games like 'doctor, doctor' before sexually awakening and experimenting in their adolescence while parents look on curiously cautious, anxious to make sure that their children come to no harm. Having attained adulthood, heterosexuals are generally well supported socially and their place, context are well charted from primary education through career advancement, into retirement and even as they approach death. There is generally the guarantee of family to fall back on and a sense of legacy embedded in new generations of offspring. Socially acceptable role models are common place. Hey provide ample reference points, like milestones on the journey through life.

For gay men and women no such roadmap exists and a full commitment to gay sexual identity may take years or even decades as they struggle to overcome the shame and loathing that has been instilled in societies bigoted view of what is considered normal. This is often a huge setback for gay individuals on their journey to and through adulthood. There are some role models but they are generally iconic figures outside the family. Family and social support from the heterosexual community is rare, leaving gay men and woman feeling marginalised and alienated by mainstream society. In a gay world that often holds a fickle bias towards an idealised and sexually provocative youth, there is little surprise when one finds exaggerated levels of fear about ageing in this community. These are generally not men and women who have a family to fall back on and they are commonly without children who can provide a support cushion to fall back on as they age. These man and women often fall victim to what is called 'internalised ageism' which is the use of typical statements like, "No one wants you after 50" and, "I shouldn't go out because I'm not a kid anymore" and, "I don't want to be thought of as a dirty old man." Just as gay people's internalised homophobia must be eradicated in order to develop a positive gay identity, so must their internalised ageism be eradicated in order to age successfully.

Perhaps nowhere is the obsession with beauty and glorification of youth more prevalent than in gay male culture but ageing is also an inescapable fact of life. The roaring hormones of youth have always taken precedence over maturity. Do you value your own maturing attractiveness or do you rely on others to affirm it? If you walked into a crowded room and saw yourself standing on the other side, would you be tempted to walk across the room and introduce yourself to the other you or would you turn your back and meet up with others instead? If you chose to speak to the other you, what qualities do you observe in that person that lead you to do this? If you chose to walk away from the other you, what's so repulsive about the other person that motivated you to do it? Exercises like this quickly reveal how you think about yourself. There is a saying: "you cannot truly love another person until you fully love yourself." Like so many of these statements, this is a cliché that is full of wisdom. It is not a narcissistic statement, one of overt self-love, but is instead a statement which implies that your love for another will always be based on neediness unless you feel whole and complete and content within yourself. Negativity and prejudice about yourself is a process that inevitably leads to self-loathing and despair. If you are not sure about yourself, and constantly seek the affirmation of others, there may come a time when you might doubt the sincerity of the compliments you get from others. How will you ever know if they are telling you the truth? One of the hardest things to do as a gay person is to deal with invisibility. Suddenly becoming invisible due to aging is a cruel aspect of gay life. Amongst the LGBTI community, visibility is a personal as well as a community struggle. Many young gay men have rigid rules when it comes to dating and can't imagine being seen with anyone outside their own age group. This not only applies to romantic partnerships but also to potential role models, friends and mentors. It is a very sad reality that some older gay men often become quite reclusive because of this and don't want to be seen, they render themselves invisible. They stop circulating because they don't think they'll be noticed, many choose to stay at home out of fear of becoming irrelevant and being rejected or ridiculed. It seems to be a prevailing unspoken and underwritten rule that it is crucial to be sexy, that gay life is all about sex, and if you are not sexually attractive that you have no value in the community, become invisible and get ignored. So much of gay sexual history can be seen in terms of objectification, here, ageism reduces an object's value. Before you can expect other men to think of you as something more than just your age, you have to think of yourself as something more than just your age. Avoid sabotaging yourself by projecting rejection long before anyone has rejected you. It takes some guts to reinvent yourself in your midlife and again as you begin to age. Many don't even try because their self-image has been so damaged by growing up in a non-gay world. It may take quite a bit of lateral thinking to explore other dimensions of your being in order to find your new place in your community but grieving over your youth and attractiveness will only worsen your ability to redefine yourself.

A friend and I travelled through Paris many years ago. The train pulled up at one of the underground metro stations and a young woman climbed onto our carriage. Johann nudged me and whispered, "take a look at that woman over there and notice that despite her obvious poorness, perhaps she even sleeps on the streets, see how stylish she is." For years, Johann and I tried to understand what makes style, stylish but we never really found a satisfactory answer. There are women who have plenty of money to buy the latest fashions and stunning accessories but most of them run the risk of looking gaudy or kitsch. Money is not the thing that makes style, stylish. It is much, much more elusive than that. In the same way that style is elusive, so too is the magical aura carried by some elderly people. It's hard to define precisely what adds this charm. Few elderly people have it, many never will. It's called "grace." No, it's not graceful, that's only part of it. It's much subtler that. Elderly men and women who are full of grace are attractive in a very, very different way. This attractiveness is not momentary or fleeting, it is long-lasting and endearing. Grace has nothing to do with sexiness. It has nothing to do with health. It is a deeply spiritual quality of immense value.

The Tobie I mentioned bumping into at the radio station's studios is none other than Tobie Cronje, he needs very little introduction here in South Africa. He is an iconic South African actor who has over a hundred stage roles to his name and who has won some major awards too. He has been a household name for decades having appeared in early Afrikaans television and in Janice Honeyman's Christmas pantomime shows. Tobie is always charming and forthcoming.

What do you think about the youth, it's all about good looks and style?

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Are you not worried about life's future?

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But there's so much fear about a fading exterior, don't you experience that sometimes?

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It seems as though there's a timeless inner being that's quite content…

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So you have no fear of the future?

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Seriously though? No fear of the future?

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So how do we teach this to the youth?

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You must have had you fair share of past tragedy…

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Would you ever rewrite your storyline if you could?

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Is there more after death?

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I quote Shakespeare very loosely when he said that life's a stage and all the people are actors thereon.

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What was the general theme of your play — the purpose of your play?

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Life is full of adventure and there are many ups and downs, and some of the downs are pretty awful. How do you make sense of that?

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Do you think you've mastered the art of living?

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Life's a bit like a roller-coaster ride with its hectic ups and downs and one must be careful not to let life frighten you because, when you apply the brakes, where do you go then?

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One must be careful not to put the brakes on and get stuck in a big depression…

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Lastly Tobie, how did you come upon this peaceful outlook on life?

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So it's very apparent that developing a wholesome attitude towards ageing is not only about survival but more about thriving. Successful ageing means continuing to do what you love to do — and never using your age as the only reason for not doing it. It is also about paying more attention to spiritual issues, in whichever way you define that.

There must be an accepted part of the living process where the quality of life becomes paramount. Tobie wisely implies that you should embrace your strengths and weaknesses and not deny anything about yourself. This means recognising that the ageing process is, in a real sense, the development of a new performance, the creation of a new character in its own life story.