Saturday, 23 April 2016

Heaven clearly can't wait. Ranting and screaming inside. Growing old and lecturing ... myself, mostly.

What follows should come with a warning - it is a preachy rant. Stop now if you're not in the mood for a lecture. Or, if you're into procrasti-reading, read on and (hopefully) enjoy my latest piece of procrasti-writing. Apologies too for the reference to elderly leakages. And farts. And now, for being deeply irreverent. Sorry.

Heaven can't wait. Meatloaf was wrong. Clearly the 'band of Angels' is impatiently putting together a gig. There's a party happening which we haven't been invited to. Yet.

What a terrible year 2016 has been, so far. And we are barely dipping our winter-wrapped toes into Spring. Is it that the roll-call of those summoned to a higher place grows ever more poignant as we age? Prince was but a few years older than me. Victoria Wood, a meaningless number of years older still. Meaningless because what does age mean astride the long plateau of middle age before the eventual slide into decrepitude? A few years here, a few there - we're essentially all the same, us middle-agers.
I meet people often through my work who bemoan getting old - I want to scream at them that most of the world misses out on this opportunity. Denied seeing their children and grandchildren grow, as living-a-long-life is stolen from them. Old age is indeed a privilege enjoyed by few and if we are lucky enough to be one of the few, we should embrace it. Enjoy the passing years. The piling-up of experiences (... the piles? Maybe not.) The expanding knowledge. The wisdom of someone who has seen it all and done it all before. Don't moan. Don't whinge. Don't complain. Avoid any crumb of bitterness or resentment.
Yes, as we age we slow, we shuffle, we buckle and bend and ache and leak and fart and lose things. But we can still smile on the inside. And be grateful.

Prince, David Bowie, Victoria Wood and Alan Rickman were denied their old age. 
Their untimely, shocking, deeply unfair deaths bring the rest of us up short. Makes me ... you too? ... think - am I next? I think of my middle-aged family and friends. And I can't bear the idea of living without them. 

Perhaps, the answer to this tsunami of celebrity deaths lies in the maths of population statistics. In a world obsessed with celebrity, we have reached a critical mass, the number of celebrities now so great that it is inevitable there will be a significant passing, if not every day, then every week and because of social media, we all hear about it. We are at the tipping point beyond which the flood of celebrity deaths becomes more noticeable, more flood-like. It is no longer a sad, dignified trickle, to be contemplated and quietly grieved over, but a daily headline-grabbing sensation that is hard to avoid, hard to recover from, and hard to live alongside. Obituary journalism must be a booming business.

I'd like to postpone my obituary for as long as possible. I want to grow old.

Growing old is perhaps a little like reading a book of poems. You start and three or four poems in, you already have a favourite. Then, it is replaced as you read more. The favourites jostle for position - some remaining high on your list, others dropping away - as you race to the end. Your head full, you struggle to remember those you dropped, their words fade and disappear. Others rise up and remain with you, right to the end. You cherish them. You meet with them each time you pick up your book. Then they too drop away. And all you have left is a trinket box of orphaned words and half-remembered names. Gloomy? Not at all. What is better than reading a life full of friends?

Write the life you want to read. What haven't you done today that you could have done? What do you want to do with the life you have left? Start tomorrow to live the way you want to live. Can you?  Can I? Think about it. While you can.

Social media has called for the elderly statesmen and women of celebrity to be put on 24 hour guard. But I say live like Attenborough - with grace and adventure and enthusiasm and good cheer. Don't wrap him in cotton wool. Allow him to be reckless. To enjoy every minute. In the middle ages, knights strove with passion to have a good death. Their idea of a suitable end was rather different and a lot more bloody than ours (thinks swords and valour and Game of Thrones and you'll get the general idea). Today, a good death is one that comes peacefully at the end of a long and full life, enjoyed right up to the end. It should be celebrated. We miss those that die this way - of course we do; Corbett and Wogan, both this year - but we celebrate them too. Shock at their deaths quickly fades. We don't feel they were cheated in the way that Bowie, Prince, Wood and Rickman were. Their relatively early deaths grip at our hearts. And sear into our heads making us fearful for ourselves. And for our loved ones.

Such fear should be avoided, though - worrying about death assuredly paralyses. It stops all the living clocks, silences the pianos that would play our tune, and scribbles prematurely in the sky the message He/She is Dead. Dead all too soon. Let living be our North, our South, our East, our West, our fun-filled week, our Sunday rest. Believe that love could and can last for ever. Light up the stars, rejoice in the moon and dance in the sun. Let us live and breathe and see that only despair can never come to any good. Apologies to W. H Auden, with whose misquoted poem - in case you hadn't guessed - I utterly disagree. It was beautiful in Four Weddings and a Funeral. But really? - I want to live and believe that love lives on. Love doesn't end. We simply take it in our hearts to a new page.

Heaven clearly couldn't wait for those we now salute and remember. But for me, for now, I'm hoping it can.

As Meatloaf sang,

Heaven can wait
And all I've got is time until the end of time

...  I'm off to use my time well.

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