It’s sunday morning and I’m drinking coffee in my parent’s basement. My grandmother, sister, brother and nephew are here for my birthday. It’s good to be among family.
I’m 31 now. There’s nothing notable about being 31. Growing old is banal. It’s not moving forward as much as it’s getting dragged along. Aging and death are given; everything else has to be taken, ripped from someone else’s arms.
You’re always younger than you will be but I’ve always felt older than I am. When I was 25 I wanted to be 21 again. When I turned 30 I wanted to be 25. Rather than lamenting what’s lost I should be grateful for what remains. Because there’s still so much to lose.
I don’t know pain. But I have a good imagination for it. I’m the source of my suffering.
(This isn’t true. I grew up impotent in an age of deregulated sexuality. Struggled in silence for years, alone, not knowing what was wrong with me. I watched my body fail. Few men experience this in their youth. They’re out there but no one talks about it. Who would admit that.
I finally had surgery a year and a half ago. Now I’m cured but the damage was done. And I’m still paying off hospital bills. I’ll need surgery again someday to maintain my artificial ability. Human engineering counteracting the curse of god.
All my grandparents except for one are dead. My grandpa on my mom’s side had alzheimers. He deteriorated for years. It’s maddening to see someone lose their mind. My grandpa on my dad’s side also wasted away. I didn’t know either of them well enough. Most of my memories of them are from after they became sick, when they were shadows of themselves.
And no matter what happens to you, life is pain. No one knows why we’re here or why we suffer and die. It might be for nothing and the possibility is haunting. The alternative, that we’re made in the image of an all powerful creator who has a plan for us, is equally if not more disquieting.
But I’m trying not to soak in sadness. We’re slated for the grave but in the meantime we should make the most of it. This is what books, podcasts and successful men tell me. I need to change the words that flow through my ditch of a mind. My sentiments are bad habits, not essential truths. What do I even know. Nothing. Then why do I always have a reason for why I can’t do something.)
It’s fascinating to watch my five year old nephew. He’s brilliant. He reads and writes, counts, adds and multiplies. They want him to skip kindergarten and start first grade. He could do it but then he would be one of those kids. A precocious child is a target, an outcast. It will be difficult for him to make friends. My hope is that he’ll be one of those hard science or math savants with a cheerful disposition. The type who’s always calculating and investigating and working with numbers and never succumbing to self doubt and despondency.
The beginning of life is bursting with promise and potential. My nephew could do anything. But if he wants to make money he needs to be prudent. I hope he doesn’t make the same mistakes I did and waste time with music and literature. Or if he does, I hope he’s better at those things than I am. Or at least finds fulfillment in them.
If he can compute and code and build robots he’ll have a place in the new economy of human obsolescence. Otherwise he’ll be poor and insecure, jumping from job to job serving food or wiping windows and scrubbing counters. But regardless of what he becomes, right now his future is open. And that’s worth something. What we could be is more precious than what we become.
And then my grandma is at the other end of life. She’s 82 and spry. She travels and goes to the theater and plays cards with friends. A model senior citizen. Children and the elderly have an innocence and joy often missing in adults. They’re free from the burdens of work and sex. The things that we spend the bulk of our lives doing or pursuing. What saps us of our creativity and wonder.
To be free from work and sex is to transcend the world. We begin life above the toilsome earth. And then we fall into habit and forgetfulness. Repeating what we don’t want and losing everything we love wears us down.
In old age there’s a chance to be young again. If you have money and health. You can return to a state of wonder and purity and happiness like a child. Unless you’re a miserable old crank who never let go of disappointments and dogma. People will abandon you because no one wants to hear an old fool rant and complain all day long, and distracted caregivers will serve your pap and gruel.
My surroundings are peaceful but I’m feeling antsy. I’m in my prime and living with my retired parents in a small town with few friends and few opportunities. It was a good birthday, though.