“When young, it is too soon, and when old, it is too late”
Diogenis the Cynic
“The young seek adventure, the old long for security.”
I was eleven years old when the Halley’s Comet passed. I was going out on the balcony to see it but the sky was clouded.
“It doesn’t matter” I had told my father. I’ll see it again when it zip past the next time in 75 years. I will be 86 years old by then.
My father didn’t laugh. He fixed a serious look on me and he just said: “I wish you see it”.
And he caressed me. With grief.
Now that I am as old as my father was back then, and I have a child a little younger than the tot that was hunting comets, I understand, I feel, that I can comprehend his gaze, his grief.
The first thing that must have crossed his mind, was that in 75 years he is unlikely to be alive.
Yet I don’t think that his grief stemmed from the sudden realization of his mortality. A forty-year-old man has already begun compromising with his death; and if he is aware of real life, he should thank god, the universe, luck, that he turned forty.
But when your child talks about his old age, then reality is merciless. There is a bud (what else could be a ten-year old child?) before your eyes and you see it with your mind’s eye as an old man, lying at the point of death.
The worst is, as you are thinking of the likelihood to survive until he is 86 years old, you are pondering also of the possibility to have died before that age. So you realize that your child is mortal. That’s harder to take than your own death.
An ancient Greek was roaming through the agora weeping and tearing his hair out. He had just lost his child.
A Stoic philosopher approached him and told him:
“Why are you crying? Didn’t you know that your child was mortal?”
“I knew it” he answered between his sobs.
“Then why are you crying? You can’t bring your child back.”
“That’s why I’m crying” said the man and left crying, leaving the Stoic in his robotic stoic.
The children intuit death’s inevitableness (for everybody, themselves included) at the age of five or six. They may ask, just to make sure, perhaps avoiding using the word.
“Shall I get old one day, too?”
“You will experience so many and wonderful things till then”, parents will tell.
That’s the only antidote to death: Life.
And that’s what children do: they live.
A kid is immortal because the future doesn’t bother them. They have no sense of time. They are much more concerned about sun’s death (in five billion years) than prostate and cardiorespiratory problems.
That’s the nature of the adolescents, too. But they are not just immortal, they come with the added bonus of omnipotence.
Particularly when they overcome the colossal problem of acne, the adolescent (or youth) believes that they can do anything, to move mountains, to change the world.
As the years and decades pass by, they learn to compromise with less.
A twenty-year-old wants the world and wants it now.
The forty-year-old will be content with a slightly improved world. He knows (or perhaps believes?) that the world doesn’t easily change and faith as small as a mustard seed is not enough to move mountains.
Then, at their fifties or sixties, they seek security and stability to rest their weary bones.
People do not stop playing because they get older. They get old because they stop playing. That’s what somebody wrote.
The thing is, as the years are adding up on your back, along with the concomitant financial and health problems, it’s getting harder and harder to play.
The “event horizon” of the black hole of the end, gets increasingly hold of you.
The more you are getting closer to the end (as if approaching a black hole), the more your actions and your thoughts are captured by the gravity of the inevitable.
But it is experience that makes you cynical/conformist/dull. As the years pass by, the grown-up/middle aged/overage is trapped in something that Nitche’s “Eternal return” springs into mind. Every day is pretty much similar with its predecessor.
The adolescent too will be excited when they listen to Morisson for the first time. They would believe that they met God once they kiss the lips of the one they fell in love.
Having sex, going to vacations with your friends, being four sheets to the wind, entering the lecture classroom of the university, making your own money, your first house, driving, travelling abroad, protesting, playing live music, shaking up, the birth of your first child.
Everything is so impressive the first time.
As the years pass by, the enthusiasm wanes, the body gets tired, the soul gives way.
You understand (or believe) that you cannot change the world. Most of the days, you are simply trying to survive within it – and you struggle to remain intact in it.
As death comes closer, reminiscing is what you are left to do.
“You are an old man, when the past gives you more pleasure than the future.”
Perhaps only then, just before the end, you get the picture and become a child again. Perhaps only then you might relish with gratitude every break of dawn you set your eyes on.
No eighty-year-old has ever changed the world. Because they don’t believe that the world can change.
All they do is anticipating Halley’s Comet to see it, if the sky permits so, and then to close their eyes in peace.
PS: The only antidote to death is life. If you wake up tomorrow morning, if you open your eyes, you are lucky.
What you will do, is your own business. Life gains weight with what you place in its pocket.
Addendum: Perhaps Adam will see earlier the comet, since this year (2014) Halley’s Comet will be visible, 47 years earlier.
(Thanks to Lelos Pop for the information)