June 4, 2010 § 1 Comment
I was deeply affected by the film The Mysterious Case of Benjamin Button. I could barely move nor speak as the lights in the cinema began to rise. I saw the film, which details the life of a man born old who proceeds to get younger as the years progress until he finishes his life as a baby, at a particularly vulnerable moment in my life, a time during which I spent many hours contemplating the reality of getting older, of being keenly aware of the fact that we can never go back in our lives; moments come, moments go and once past us, they move inexorably further and further away in the rearview mirror of our experience. They cannot be retrieved except in our memories and even then will always be tainted with our views, so often having grown pessimistic, of the present.
A well-worn cliché that people often use is, “you’re only as old as you feel.” While trite, the grain of truth in that statement is evident. However, as I watch myself move into a different stage of life, I see that feeling “old” has much less to do with one’s feelings and more to do with one’s perspective, for our feelings and emotions will always obey the mind- that is, they are causal in nature: how we perceive our world, its happenings and our place amongst them will dictate how we will feel about those events and the person who lives at the centre of our own little corner of the world, namely us.
The person who goes to bed mourning the loss of joy, love or adventure in his life must be the same soul who no longer believes in the possibility of their emergence in his present and future. This person awakes to a new day with no sense of hope, only dread, for to fill a day that holds no foreseeable chance for any dream, desire or ambition to be fulfilled or satisfied is to climb a mountain with no peak. The
earliest incarnation of Humanity found in each day a set of tasks to be fulfilled and whether or not they were aware of it, completion of those tasks assuredly resulted in a sense of satisfaction, purpose and meaning. Equally probable is that, in the failure to complete those same tasks, there would result an added urgency and meaning in rising at the dawn of the new day to set about their completion.
We now live in a world where urgent, life-sustaining goals are not built in to our existences. Indeed, we are told from an early age that the goal in life is to arrive at a place where we have no urgent need that cannot be easily met. Even the poorly paid bus driver can return to a decent living environment (at least when compared to the same kind of worker who lived in earlier times), eat a plentitude of food (albeit, in all probability, little of it healthy) and find ready-made, spoonfed ‘entertainment’ emanating from their large television which now would cost them no more than a week’s pay and of course it is no different for the wealthy citizen; the only discernible difference is the size and grandeur of their material possessions. Even the one remaining commonality that should bind all of us, that is being part of a family and/or broader community in which we are able to feel nourished through acts of giving and receiving love and nurturance, has been eroded; so many people have created walled-off existences for themselves, feeling a sense of disconnection from their families and their own inner lives.
Must it be that an inevitable result of the aging process is a gradual loss of joy, of possibility? That we must , on a more regular basis, live in our memories of the past as a way to medicate away the pain of a lifeless, dull present? Certainly the society in which we live hints at that: we are told in so many ways, overt and subliminal, that we must stay young, that to grow older is a negative phemonenon that must be kept at bay for as long as possible, that marriage, family and “settling down” must also mean the cessation of self-exploration, of the passions, of adventure.
Certainly some processes do slow down. But others within us have the potential to grow in power. I have always believed that we should become freer as we mature, more expressive, more spontaneous and passionate about the meaningful things in our lives because we can free ourselves of the self-consciousness and judgement of earlier years when we were more tightly bound by our egos. Our power of focus and concentration can improve, which then can have the result of enhanced focus on the tasks and productive habits which have real meaning for us and a greater ability to mentally forego those which no longer serve us.
Maybe it is just part of our humanity to glorify the past, a trap into which people young and old can fall. But we must always endeavour to come back to the massive potentiality of the present. The adventure we long for is right here; it lives in the strange impulses and feelings always bubbling below our conscious minds; it resides in the interactions we have with those around us, whether they be filled with love, fear or indifference; it bursts forth in our desires and libidos, which can be expressed and channeled in so many powerful, exciting and productive ways and above all it stems from the irrefutable fact that our better days are a collection of the day we live today, holding in our mind the possibility of tomorrow.
I wasn’t aware of that reality when I saw The Mysterious Case of Benjamin Button, which may explain why its story made me so sad. But I’m a year older now. And freer, wiser and more alive to boot.