We worry about getting old. And we bemoan the passage of time.
But once upon a very long time ago, nobody kept track of the years. People in their nomadic, tribal clusters got up when the day dawned and went to sleep when it got dark. They did it every day, over and over again, until, inevitably, they didn’t awaken from their final sleep. Nobody ever worried about getting old; they just lived until they died, and the tribe moved on without them.
Even today in this wide world of ours, there are countless numbers of people who don’t worry about aging. They live in unforgiving climes where their every effort is bent toward eking out a subsistence-level existence. Or they’re driven from their homes by ravaging armies—persecuted for their beliefs, their skin colour, their ethnic origins, and often enslaved by their captors. They, too, live only until death frees them, far too burdened to bother about the realities associated with getting old.
Yet here are we, inured from such extreme conditions—secure, some of us, in our developed, civilized world, inundated by the availability of all the essentials and luxuries we might desire—and what do we do? We worry about getting old.
Not all of us, of course. Many young people appear to have the same nonchalant, carefree attitude I probably had at their age. Immortality is a given. The halcyon days of youth are destined to last forever. Only old people are old.
Others of us, the more elderly, have learned a sterner truth. Youth lasts only until it’s over, only until our bodies begin to betray us. The rosy morning of youth gives way, grudgingly, to a more austere noontime of life, and then, inexorably, to a deepening dusk we all must enter.
Some people accept that more gracefully than others, some more stoically, some more fatalistically.
Some, of course, do not accept it at all. In the words of the poet, they rage, rage against the dying of the light. Nips and tucks; silicone, botox, collagen, and dye; enhancements and reductions; diets and purging; even exercise—all undertaken by men and women in a fruitless pursuit of everlasting youth.
Why does this happen, here in our world of plenitude? It happens because we measure time’s passing. After all, time itself is neither our friend nor our enemy. It’s just there, it’s always been there, and it will forever be so. No, it’s the keeping track of time that plagues us, wreaking havoc on our youth, eventually forcing us to an acceptance of the stark reality that we are going to get old. And we are going to die.
But remember, we are the first cohort of people since the dawn of time who has ever had the luxury of worrying about that.
Perhaps we shouldn’t.