Tue | Jan 26, 2021

Carolyn Cooper | Zooming into a new decade

Published:Sunday | November 29, 2020 | 12:11 AM

“Is after 68 is over/You could really enjoy 69.” That’s vintage slackness from the Mighty Sparrow’s classic, Age is Just a Number. And, whatever the figure, Sparrow knows this for sure: age is “controlled by your state of mind”. I’m inclined to agree. Two Fridays ago, I celebrated my 70th birthday. Well, that’s merely my chronological age. I’d like to believe that my biological age is much, much younger.

In a May 2020 article published on the woman&home website, Debra Waters defines biological age as “a comprehensive quantitative measure of the individual’s inner ageing process and a good approximation for overall health. But unlike chronological ageing, biological ageing can be changed, improved, and even reversed to a point.” It seems as if science is on Sparrow’s side. Your state of mind and the choices you make can have a huge impact on the rate at which you age.

Genetics is, obviously, a significant factor. But lifestyle issues such as excessive alcohol consumption, smoking, irregular exercise, poor diet and inadequate sleep can all determine the degree to which we pop down as we grow older. According to the calculator Waters cites, my biological age is 56. I’m not willing to concede even that. I found another calculator that put me at 51. I’m starting there and heading back down.


Fun and joke aside, I’ve been reflecting on some of the lessons I’ve learned over the last seventy years that are particularly relevant in these dread times. The first is, “Man proposes and God disposes.” The Jamaican version is much more heartical: “Man write an God rub out.” All the plans of so many millions of people across the world have been erased, if not by God, but certainly by COVID-19. From the consequential to the mundane!

I had planned a bashment birthday party. One of my friends, Liz, nearly dead wid laugh when I told her I hoped Koffee and Buju would make a cameo appearance. She did admit that no one could say I wasn’t ambitious. And even after Buju’s mask meltdown, I would still invite him to my party. Critics need to understand that stay-at-home orders and enforced mask wearing could be unsettling reminders for Buju of his long incarceration. I wonder what therapy, if any, this brilliant artiste has got to ease his transition back to freedom.

In March, I accepted the fact that, in the larger scheme of things, my aborted party was completely insignificant. Death and destruction have ravaged the world. Almost one and a half million people have died. And the lives of so many more have been irreparably damaged by COVID-19. Even those who have seemingly recovered from the virus are likely to suffer long-term ill effects. And as for the incalculable economic fallout from the global catastrophe!


It’s just as well that I learned another lesson early in life: the joy of anticipation. This word, like so many in English, comes from Latin. ‘Ante’ means ‘before’ and ‘capere’ means ‘to take.’ So anticipation literally means ‘taking into possession ahead of time.’ If you get whatever you anticipated, you have two pleasures. If you don’t, at least you had one. If you don’t anticipate success, and you fail, you end up with no pleasure at all!

The Coleman Institute for Addictive Medicine posted an instructive article on its website in January 2016 on the benefits of anticipation: “Scientists are now also calling dopamine ‘the anticipation molecule’ because it has been shown that dopamine is also released in large amounts when we anticipate a pleasurable experience.” The sensation is intensified if it’s likely that we’ll be able to actually have the anticipated experience.

So what can we take into possession, ahead of time, as we contemplate the post-pandemic future? The Indian novelist Arundathi Roy proposes a compelling possibility: “Historically, pandemics have forced humans to break with the past and imagine their world anew. This one is no different. It is a portal, a gateway between one world and the next. We can choose to walk through it, dragging the carcasses of our prejudice and hatred, our avarice, our data banks and dead ideas, our dead rivers and smoky skies behind us. Or we can walk through lightly, with little luggage, ready to imagine another world. And ready to fight for it.”


One of the lessons I’ve learned this year is that airline travel for work is not always essential. Last year, I went abroad eight times for speaking engagements. This year, I’ve done a million and one talks on Zoom. The global lockdown has demonstrated that virtual communication can be almost as effective as the old-fashioned kind. Admittedly, the airline and hospitality industries have been devastated. It will be a long struggle to rebuild.

Because I associate Zoom calls with work, I was rather dismissive when my sister, Donnette, proposed a Zoom party. It seemed like such a contradiction. She sensibly anticipated that it would work, and not the way I expected. That’s the other lesson I learned. Prejudgement is not always accurate. I listened to my sister and thoroughly enjoyed my truly memorable party. No Buju or Koffee, but still! It was an intimate affair with friends from near and far. For now, I’m zooming across the decades, anticipating my bashment birthday party in 2022. If God don’t rub out!

- Carolyn Cooper, PhD, is a specialist on culture and development. Email feedback to columns@gleanerjm.com and karokupa@gmail.com.