When I first met Marie, she was perched on a lawn mower, which resembled a mini tractor, clipping away the grass on her one-acre lush garden in a small village some 70 kilometres south of Paris. I was both surprised and impressed with her agility, as she is an old woman of some 85 years, petite in her frame of 5’ 2”. I had just arrived in France to join my husband who is a student here, and Marie is our very resourceful landlady.

The reason I feel the strong urge to talk about Marie is, because in all my years in Pakistan, I have never come across someone of her age, so full of life and vitality and this saddens me deeply. She has lived a full life, travelled the world in a truck with her husband and two children in the 70s and published a book about it, raised four successful children who have all left to live their own lives, as is common in the west, and now lives all by herself losing her husband a decade back, making a small income by renting out her house, maintaining an estate without any sort of external help. An average morning for her is waking up at 4 am and going on her usual 7 kilometer hike in the forest with her walking group, then having breakfast that she cooks outdoors on her electric grill, and finally settling down with a good book and a cup of tea. Despite having had hip replacement surgery, she was on her knees, plumbing my clogged sink and changing the broken toilet seat with me standing there gaping with amazement.

Now think about the aged members of our society, characteristically above 75. Keeping in mind the tiny fraction of exceptions found everywhere, our older generations believe in spending their “last few years” in comfort, confined in typically one or two rooms, barely leaving the house unless it is for doctors’ appointments. Their happiness is so intertwined with that of their children and grandchildren, that one would naturally assume that they do not have a happiness of their own at all.

There are two problems to be identified here; one of the psychological aspect, the mindset of having one foot in the grave when they cross 65 years, and the other is the lack of opportunities available for senior citizens to indulge in recreational activities.

The glaring question is that why is there such a disparity in the way that we age and the way that people in the west age. Where one sees big groups of old Chinese tourists, with their sparse grey hair, their selfie sticks, making peace signs in front of the Notre Dame cathedral, scuttling away with tiny red flags on the streets of Paris, on the other end of the spectrum there is my grandmother who refusing to go out to dinner with the rest of us because her knee gives her trouble and she is not too keen on sitting outdoors in the cold and aggravating her problem.

As easy as it is to blame all the shortcomings in our culture and mindset, maybe its time we delve into how we can play a role in encouraging our elders to change the way they spend their time. A little initiative on our part has the potential to go a long way and change someone’s outlook on life. Unfortunately we do not have the concept of community centers that hold different activities for senior citizens like they do in the western world, for e.g. aerobics, yoga, chess, swimming, gardening, walking groups and book clubs etc.

But that does not mean that we cannot take the ingenuity of having such activities in our homes, for the people in our family, circle of friends and community, in our own capacity. A simple act of having a yoga class for the elderly or hosting a book club one hour every week is a great way for them to meet other people their own age and look forward to breaking the mutiny of their routines.

Volunteering to conduct such events or volunteering to allow recreational space on personal property is a great way to get started. University students can be encouraged to volunteer at such events. Even something as basic as sending a signed petition to your local government to fund such an initiative is a good start. Those young entrepreneurs looking to start up a social venture, this could be a viable idea, as nearly ten percent of the population of Pakistan comprise of the elderly.

Lastly, but most importantly, change starts at home. Encourage the elderly in your family to be active, to travel with their significant other, or to try volunteering to conduct a workshop for other people their age to impart a skill that they have. Slowly but steadily this way of life will change in our part of the world, when we realize just how important it is for us to invest in our post retirement future, for a happier and healthier population of the elderly who contribute to nation-building equally as anybody else.