Saturday, January 19, 2013

Past the Midpoint

A few days ago, there was a re-union between old friends. It was a celebration of relation that had survived through thick and thin. Through countries and continents. Through relationships and breakups. Marriages. Kids. Graduations. Jobs. Lay-offs. Passionate pursuit of hobbies. Spiritual experiences, or the lack thereof. On the day of our re-union, we all had many stories to share and hide.

We talked about all that. We joked. We sang and played. We also talked about those things which used to fill up our conversations when we were all in our twenties. You could sum them up as change-the-world topics. It was so like 10 years back!

Except a starkly different topic. Receding hairlines. Mounting waistlines. Cholesterol. Indigestion. Aches and pains. About saving up. About settling down.

It was about ageing. All of them in the group are in their early thirties, except me. I am in my late thirties.

The discussion turned towards mid-life crisis. Though, I think, I had less to add about these topics than others, I could see glances intermittently turning towards me for more light. Have you been through it? How does it look? Those glances seemed to ask.

I joked, Ya, I think it happened to me sometime when I was sleeping!

And it's not just the above incident. This strain laces through all discussions among people of my age. When you are well into your thirties, the realisation of the finiteness of life starts dawning.

I am not going to assume an attitude of a saint who is above and beyond these very natural anxieties of human beings. I do agree that the thought of dying someday isn't very pleasant. Worse still is the idea of having to go through an old age filled with helplessness and disease. Talking about a possibly impending crisis isn't bad. It's probably the first step towards preparing oneself to meet the inevitable as gracefully as possible.

What would make these discussions less gloomy is a positive outlook towards ageing and death. We all know we are going to grow old and eventually die. All life culminates that way. All the trillions and trillions of living beings that have been here have gone out the same way. All of them who tread over the surface of the planet at this moment will follow thither. It's not something new that will ever happen to us. If we think a bit rationally, death isn't something to be afraid of. 

Similarly, age is not something to hide or be ashamed of. I feel all the jokes we crack (sometimes on ourselves) about someone being older than someone else are a bit in poor taste. Think about it. What exactly underlies the humour in age related jokes? Only those who think of life as something totally absurd, a universally lost chance, are the ones who can find having lived more of it as laughable. It seems like saying: 'A is a bigger loser than B because he is older.'  As if both are losers by the definition of being alive. How absurd!

How do we look at life? As a corpus of time to be spent until it runs out? Or as a wealth of experiences to be collected and treasured? In other words, does life deplete or grow with time? With the former perspective, life is doomed to look like a tragedy, an impending and inevitable disaster. And, just assuming that life's just that and nothing else, it's then quite sadistic to laugh at someone who is presumably closer than someone else to that disaster on account of being older. If, on the other hand, we look at life from the latter perspective, a person who has lived longer is likely to have a richer wealth of experiences. In what way then does an older age make him the butt of a joke?

Having settled that, I wish to return to my earlier stand that I am not beyond the fear of death. I won't prefer death over life today. Or tomorrow. It's unlikely I will ever find death more attractive than life. On the one hand, I don't see life as a wonderful, divine gift like a truly enlightened person would. There may be divinity in it, but I haven't seen it myself. I know there are moments of sheer joy with divinity almost poking its head out. But they come floating to us like twigs in an ocean of boredom, toil and even misery. On the other hand, I don't claim to belong to the existential lot who demand a right to be depressed, treating life as a natural accident they had no say in. I am somewhere in the middle of these two extremes. And my position only allows me to want to live more; to fear death; and while life lasts, to strive to make its beautiful moments more frequent.

Taking no sides whatever, I wish to engage in a moment's thought. What is it about death that we dread so much?  Of course, to a large extent, living organisms are wired to shun death. Even insentient creatures try and avert death. But that doesn't explain the unimaginable extent to which human-beings go to preserve life.

This article is going to remain unfinished, if, it having initiated this discussion, a decisive analysis on life and death is what would complete it. I hold no qualification, no credential, to embark on such a lofty enterprise. I want to leave you with just a thought that as soon as we devote a moment of serenity to this thought of life and death, we feel lightened, past the knee-jerk reaction of panic that's built into our biology at the mention of the inevitable.

And that's not because life's not worth living. I don't want to give you any impression of divinity which I myself haven't experienced. That would be like faking orgasm! I just want to remind you of those twigs and branches of ecstatic moments that float to us (or we swim to them) through the ocean of drudgery. If there's any divinity anywhere, it's hidden in those moments. Here's brief list:

  • When a sip of tea suddenly seems to inject freshness right through your soul.
  • When you jam with your friends.
  • When a loved one sincerely expresses that you mean something to him/her. When you are able to express your love to someone and he/she understands.
  • When a point of enduring confusion gets clarified. When the thought process that led to that clarity lies before your eyes like a tamed beast, like a well-laid out map. The beauty of it all!
  • When a thought or word of yours brings the light of hope and clarity to someone's eyes.
  • When you look at a creation -- a drawing, a song, a recipe, an essay, a discussion -- and the feeling comes to you: 'Yes! This is what I wanted to express!'
  • Whenever a moment feels like just the way it should be.
  • When you feel that you are exactly the way you would like to be.

The experience of these moments seems to completely offset the cost of all the drudgery and misery that interleave with them. In fact, just try this question: How much are you ready to pay for any of the above? And you will know the answer. It's almost stupid to try to attach a price tag to these experiences. These experiences are priceless! And any life that gives you a hope of these is every bit worth clinging on to.

But, there still seems nothing to fear anything that may put a sudden stop to it. Taking a moment off from my self-afflicted agnosticism, here's a prayer I feel like saying: Keep me sane enough to be able to remember what experiences I have had. Give me the good-sense to be thankful for them. Give me the hope and energy to try and fill my moments with these experiences.

... and. Give me the grace to be smiling when it's time to pack my bags.


1 comment:

Rukma said...

Hey, interesting post! Yes, it's not a good idea to fear death. One should instead live life to the fullest and accept life's challenges in a graceful manner.