I turned 42 last week.
The day itself was fine. There were friends (less than previous years) and family (less than previous years) and the usual barrage of Facebook notifications that someone you hadn’t interacted with in twelve months had been kind enough to type two words and maybe an emoji to mark the big occasion. There were no phone calls though, they seem to be communicative relics of a bygone age where a spare moment may be dedicated to speaking with one person, not broadcasting to the whole internet as it is now. (and no, the irony of writing that in a Web log isn’t lost on me; I am as guilty as the next)
But the next day, 24 hours in to this new, older life was tough. There was just me. Me and my 42 year old body with it’s aches, failings, unavoidable signs of ageing. Me and my own mind, 42 years old yet filled either with the wisdom of ages (and the weight encumbant with that knowledge; knowledge of decay, death, destruction of all that is held dear) or filled with the thoughts of the inner child, with basic needs and desires and no thought of cause or effect.
A day spent in isolation, recollecting the past and pondering a future that gets shorter by the hour. It wasn’t morbidity that plagued me that day, but the inescapable truth that whilst there are surely good days to come, they will be fewer than those that have already gone. The nagging certainty that with effort and application unbounded my healthiest days are still behind me. The terrifying knowing that no one lives forever, and whilst it may still be an eternity before your own time is up there are those around you who will go first and leave unfillable holes in whatever is left of your life.
So what to do with this knowledge? How best to acknowledge a future so full of unknowable certainties?
As Dylan Thomas will atest, going gently in to that good night is no way to go at all. But the alternative, to fight the unwinnable battle against the passing of time, takes an energy and effort far greater than anything required in my first four decades. To win back my health means starting from a point lower than ever before, far below the y axis of any previous graph for measuring my body’s capabilities. To enjoy to their fullest those few remaining relationships marks a turning point from passive friendships and familiar familial geniality to working at loving and talking and being present, at a time when others’ lives take a turn away from the road that your on to boot.
And yet, there is no choice. Once you know what I now know, that nothing is forever, it makes each remaining second wasted a crime against yourself. A theft of opportunity, the murder of hopes and of dreams. And so Dylan was right, there’s nothing gentle about entering the second half of your time and it requires rage to stoke the fire and blaze your way in to later life.
To quote another great philosopher, Andy Dufrain of Shawshank Prison, it’s time to “get busy living or get busy dying”; and if you’re going to be busy either way you might as well try and live right up until end.
“Do not go gentle into that good night,
Old age should burn and rave at close of day;
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.”