In a few short days I will be 70 years old. There, I’ve said it!
This exercise in denial is a regular occurrence; insofar as I am still able to retrieve memories from the black abyss of time, they started when I was 40. Up until then, I was still growing up and exploring this wonderful world. Or at least the world that I, as a western European, was privileged to be born into. But 40 was a wall: brick, stone, blancmange, it matters not. I was confronted with the knowledge that I had probably lived at least half of my lifespan, had settled down into conventional cosiness, and had been seduced into believing that this was what I wanted to be and do for the rest of my time on this mortal coil – reflecting the (no doubt apocryphal) ambition of the petit bourgeoisie to get though life and safely into one’s grave without ever once having been embarrassed.
“There’s more to life,” the cry goes. “Yes, but what is it?” comes the inevitable reply from the troubled psyche of the male menopause. Is the grass perhaps actually greener on the other side? If so, where is the other side and how the hell do I get there? What if, when I get there, there isn’t any grass? It could be concrete, or plastic, or shit come to that! If I don’t like it, can I come back, say I’m sorry to all those whose lives I’ve messed up and carry on as though nothing had happened?
“How pathetic is that!” I hear at least half of the population saying. “Weren’t you listening when the rules were announced at the outset?” Well yes, they did tell me that life was a finite thingy, but well, there’s a whole lot in front of you if you’re lucky so why think about the end? It’s a long way off – three score years and ten (or so) makes about 25,000 days! Plus a bit more for good behaviour, say 30,000 or so. And days were sooo long when we were young, weren’t they?
Actually, I guess 40 was the really big one: the grand watershed. After that, things did get a bit easier, I must admit. And perhaps that’s the appropriate word: ‘admit’. Admit to yourself that you’re not immortal, that a miracle cure for death will probably not be found in your lifetime and that, even if it were, you’d be highly unlikely to be chosen as one of its beneficiaries. And come on, admit this: would you really like to live forever?
Not long ago, I was talking with one of my boyhood chums. He had been my best friend at school, but I’d lost contact with him for a couple of decades, coinciding in fact with the worst of my mid-life crisis. For some reason, I asked him what he thought the purpose of life was. He was in no doubt: to pass on one’s DNA to one’s children. I didn’t say anything, but it all seemed too simplistic. If that’s all there is to it, why spend all these years searching for something fulfilling to justify one’s existence, or trying to find happiness?
But then again, acceptance must be the key. Not trying to find anything grand in the scheme of things by inventing gods and the like. Perhaps more like embracing the natural world, as the New World peoples did before being subjugated by self-righteous, god-fearing Europeans. What a way to live your life: fearing a god that you’ve made up yourself!
So maybe that is the way to justify one’s existence and feel that it is not all in vain. In that way, by passing on our genes to others who can try to make a better job of living than we did, we do become to some degree immortal. Until Doomsday of course, which could be the result of a huge meteorite, a nuclear war or simply the end of the universe.
So I’ll just get on with it. I might even live to see some great-grandchildren, and how good is that?