For the last thirty years I have been conscious of, but not concerned about, the fact that the future ahead of me will be shorter than the past behind me. Four score and ten is an attainable age, but the next decade will probably be for me a succession of slings and arrows, sicknesses and accidents, any one of which could be my coup de grâce.
At eighty you start to wonder about things you’ll never know. How long will it take us to be able to reach, not the unreachable star but Mars, our nearest, perhaps habitable planet ? What will be the outcome of our conflict with religious terrorism ? What is in store for my grandchildren in the 21st century, the end of which I will never see ? I don’t know what’s going to happen to post-Brexit Europe. I don’t even know what is going to happen in the U.S. elections in November. I may not even live that long. (Michael Moore has just said that the Donald never wanted or expected to be elected, and is now doing all he can to make sure he isn’t !).
The White House. Casa Blanca. I think of the movie and can hear Sam playing the song again. Time is indeed going by, and there’s not much I can do about it ? Of course there is ! I can make the most of each day, not only for myself but for others. I can waste the time I have left, or make it, as far as I can, enjoyable for myself and my entourage. I won’t worry about the future, I will as far as possible avoid worrying about the past, and I will do my best to put up with the present.
The past is, of course, ever-present. Nostalgia’s the name of the game when you hit eighty : things you’re proud of, but also things and even people you’d prefer to forget. Time goes by and we try to let bygones be bygones. A curious expression, but sometimes a serious challenge. It usually means accepting (if not forgiving) injustices we have suffered, opportunities we have missed, mistakes we have made, regrets we can’t escape. Fiction is full of stories like the movie “The Straight Story”, where an old man drives a lawnmower across the State to seek out, and to seek reconciliation with, his equally aged, estranged brother. We all have our load of unpleasant memories, unfinished business, open sores. Too late, very often, to do more than write them off, though we’ll never forget them. But there are some we could face and even fix if we tried. Many die before they get around to doing what they know they should.
But there are also the good times and the great people, family and friends, it has been our privilege and luck to have known. It’s too late to thank some of them who made the good times possible. Surviving family and friends deserve our gratitude and whatever generosity we can afford, as well as our efforts not to be for them, too soon, the burden many of us will become.
Some find serenity, in spite of senescence, in the religious faith they have always had, refound or discovered for the first time. Others like me will continue to be glad they escaped their illusions and found, if not illumination, a peace that is real and not that which others pray for their loved ones in an imagined after-life. As time goes by, we do well to accept life as it is, knowing it’s the only one we’ll ever have. I can live with death and the nothingness that is its aftermath. Most people can’t. I am one of the lucky ones.