Just now, this month, I am seventy years old and it is a surprise to me. Sometimes I recount the many ways I might have died, the recklessness that tempted death. The youth of my generation didn’t think life after thirty was worth living and we hoped to be dead by forty, and some of us were. I survived the snares and traps somehow and I squeezed a hundred lifetimes into this seventy years. Remembering it all makes me tired. Noting the decline of my body makes me tired. And yet, despite the fact that skin hangs on my body in places where it once had a firm grip on muscle and flesh, despite my chagrin when viewing current pictures of myself; despite all that, this condition of time right now is in many ways the nectar of my life.
There is more subtlety, more nuance to my life now. Before, there was action, libido, and the excitement of taking risks. There was also failure and regret. Most of that has vaporized into the ether but not regret. It does not go away but time softens it. Time mixes it into a rich broth by adding nostalgia, melancholy, happiness, and the memory of clear days and the freshness of youth. Out of all that, time creates a unique cuisine, a bazaar of tastes and recollections experienced in the mind.
The mind has always been the locus of greatest entertainment for me. This might be an introvert trait; introverts generally tend to be happiest in their own company. Joy of mind comes from what imagination adds to what I experience as external reality, a reality I often find disappointing in one way or another. I have come to accept this as part of the human condition. Occasionally, I relax my judgmental sensitivity and experience a moment’s fleeting peace.
My memory operates at its highest level when experiences are connected to emotions. I have to care about what is happening to remember it. But the memories that stick are so vivid and solid that they blur the boundary between the conscious state and the dream state. And in my present stage of life this is happening more and more. It seems I drift between the two states of being like a sailor disappearing over the horizon only to reappear again sometime later.
At seventy I am free to paint and read and write unencumbered by a job. There is little to interfere with my musings. And so I can stare at the ceiling or the wall and be lost in thought. An hour passes. Maybe I fade into a dream and visit chapters of a dense and complicated life, experiencing them so clearly, so vividly that they count for experience itself. Have you ever woken up crying from a dream or been so moved by one that it took you days to recover? Have you experienced dream visits from lost loves over many years? Have you had recurring dreams of places you have only seen in dreams? Can you see the latch on the barn door thirty years ago in crystal clarity, the grain of the wood, the solid planks on the floor?
In a letter to me the poet, David Kherdian, said, “Being a human being is the hardest job of all”. And it is the hardest job, even for the rich and privileged who seem to have everything. But they don’t have everything. Nobody has everything. If they think they do that would be a state of ignorance. We are incomplete, strangers in a strange land trying to come to terms with the eternal questions: Where do we come from? Who are we? Where are we going? Our life here is very short whether we live eighteen years or eighty-eight. And the older we get the shorter it seems to have been. “Where did the time go?” we ask but it is an empty question. The mystery of this life takes questions like that and boomerangs them out into infinity.
Life works on us and hammers us into shape if we let it. We don’t have much choice. If we resist too much, rebel and fight too much, we will pay a price. A wise man said, “By the end of your life you have the face you deserve.” I wish for us to have a face at peace, a kind face, a face that has finished resisting.
What comes next? The aforementioned poet, who is now eighty-four, says, “The evidence is everywhere.”