For some people aging is a gradual process that comes on slowly where declining strength and energy are matched for a long period of time by growing savvy and wisdom. For other people the process is more akin to being mugged in a dark alley. For some people, it is the responsibilities of life that remove from one the illusion that one is young, and other people manage to live a life of remarkable freedom in some respects even as their bodies have long begun to betray them.
I was struck this evening as I was laying in bed seeking to keep my right knee elevated in the hope that my gouty knee would drain a bit by the intriguing way that aging affects our life and our world. It has long amused me that although we live in a society where youth is celebrated, there is and has always been a fair amount of power that comes to those who have survived. There are certainly a great many people who have gotten old but have not gotten as wise as they think they are, but have instead found themselves diminished by the ravages of age. There are also a great many people who do not get to live to old age because they die young.
I do not believe there is any romance in dying young, although certainly a lot of people tend to see things that way. Admittedly, I am not inclined to see much romance in life–at least not in mine–but when I think of people who die young I tend to think of waste more than anything else. If one has lived a life worth living, then one would want to see that life enjoy more years to be a decent person living the best as one can. If one’s youth has not been spent wisely, as is the case for a great many entertainers, one hopes that people live long enough to depart from the path of folly and self-destruction and choose the path of life and wisdom. Sometimes people live and learn and sometimes people die while still ignorant, and that too is a waste.
This past weekend, at the beginning of my current bout with gout knee (as opposed to the usual big toe or heel or foot gout), I watched the videos of one of the most thrilling heavyweight fights I have ever seen, the trilogy fight between Tyson Fury and Deontey Wilder, a fight between two men only a few years younger than I am who were slugging each other in a fight that started out back and forth but then became an increasingly grim struggle for one of the two men to simply stay standing while taking blow after blow, until one last shot in the eleventh round sent him to the shadow realm, as they say. Despite not being a particularly violent man, I have always been fascinated by fighting sports, and by the delicate interplay that exists between the development of skills and savvy in the ring and the heart and will that propel one to get up from the canvas over and over again.
In Greek mythology, Achilles was faced with the dilemma of either living a long but unremarkable life or living a short life that was crowned in glory. He made the choice that fit the glory-obsessed Greek archaic culture of seeking a glorious life that ended up in death on the plains of Ilium. In many ways, the choice is a false dilemma. Both dying young and missing the chance to live longer and dying old, one’s mind foggy, one’s body ravaged by chronic illness, are a waste. We have eternity in our hearts, and will not be content with anything less than immortality, something that must be a gift from another place, for it is not something we can earn or achieve for ourselves out of our own efforts, no matter much we wish it could be earned rather than given. Although it must be readily admitted that we do not wish to live an eternity in this fragile and brittle form, for that would merely be an eternity of torment, and some people have suffered enough.