The Pleasures of Growing Old

Old People in NaplesI thought that I should check in, what with my last post being all about death. Not that one should mistake me thinking of death as a bad thing. Death is our victory over the evil will. But many people do think of it in negative terms. That post wasn’t really about death anyway. It was about pain, which I do think the ultimate evil. That’s why the will is so awful: it makes us continue to accept pain. But I don’t want to talk about that. I want to talk about growing old.

I just spent three wonderful hours watching A Passage to India. It wasn’t my first viewing. I saw it roughly three decades ago and I recall liking it — but not like this. I’m going to write about the film tomorrow (most likely). Now I just want to mention how one needs to grow into a lot of works of art. That’s definitely the case here. What I suspect I appreciated then was the nice story where things turn out well for all the characters we care about.

This time, I more appreciated the film’s visual style and its formal elements. I’ll discuss that later — or at least some of it. But it’s interesting how I have to learn to appreciate things. It was the same way with writing. I was probably 30 years old before I even started to hear the language. I think for a mind like mine, math is easier because it is deductive. The beauty is pure. But the beauty of English requires far greater knowledge.

Last night, I was reading an article by Alex Nichols. He wrote something that quite amused me that would have left me cold 30 years ago:

JRR Tolkien said that “cellar door” was the most beautiful phonetic phrase the English language could produce. “BuzzFeed Hamilton Slack,” by contrast, may be the most repellent arrangement of words in any tongue.

It’s nice to grow older. Your body may fail you. You aren’t the quick wit you used to be. But you’ve marinated for so long that you can appreciate more things in life. It’s a very good thing. It makes the will seem not quite so evil.

Death and the Last 48 Hours

DeathThe last 48 hours have been very difficult and it’s got me thinking about death. We had a serious medical issue in the family. (I don’t want to go into detail because this is one of those rare cases where I have some sense of decorum.) Everything is fine now. But I still feel like I’m shell-shocked. I can’t seem to grab hold of my usual view of the world. Everything seems distant, and I just want to go to bed even though I’m not tired.

There is a difference between the intellectual and the emotional. One can, for example, look to one’s eventual death with calm detachment. That’s certainly what I do. But if someone where to pull out a gun and put it to my head, I suspect that I would freak out. I always hope that when death comes, I’ll be like Jeff Goldblum at the end of The Fly. But I suspect not.

That’s such a great moment when he grabs the barrel of the gun and places it to his head. But generally, we all want to fight to the very end. That’s because we aren’t driven by rationality. Schopenhauer was right: there is this will to live and it exists only for its own sake, regardless of what we — as relatively rational beings — want.

All of this comes to mind because of the pain and suffering of others. It’s made me change my thinking on how I want to die. Before, I’ve always wanted to slip away easily and most definitely nonviolently. But now I think a sudden and unexpected death would absolutely be the way to go. After all, it isn’t really death that we dread; it’s the idea of death. If I just disappeared right now, that would be great! Here and gone — nothing to worry about.

Anyway, that’s what I’ve been thinking about. But I don’t think I’m going to post anything for the rest of the day. I do hope that by the time you read this, I’ll be feeling more connected to life. But all this thinking about death has not made me morose. Continuing to live requires an act of faith — the belief that somehow it is all worth it. And right now, I’m not really feeling it. I’m pretty sure intellectually that it isn’t — as usual. But I’ve always had a strong (And evil!) will that makes me get out of bed each morning.

Here’s hoping that it returns tomorrow!