I started out writing another post on boundaries—in relation to divorce, in relation to careers, and so on. I think that in our society we’ve lost sight of them; all boundaries have fallen, or at the very least are under constant assault and must be defended, largely because we have made it okay—removed any and all related negative sanctions as a culture—to continously test and attempt to surmount the boundaries of those around us, even if they have drawn them consistently and repeatedly.
There was a time when this continuous testing would have been considered at the very least rude, and at most a sign of mental illness or inadequate social development, but our “activist” and “driven” culture has erased all of that.
Now if you fail to constantly push at every boundary you encounter, you are “not living your best life” and “allowing others to make the rules for you.” The sublimated warfare that is the body of social mores becomes ever-less-sublimated as a result.
Now look at me. I’ve started to duplicate my boundaries post again. That’s called a digression.
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Tonight, for reasons related to a friend and their particular ailments, I’m thinking back to all the people I’ve known who have died over the years. All of the sickness and the hospitalization, all of the funerals and the sadness and the comments about how it was “their time” or about “what might have been.”
We all live very close to the edge.
At the same time, we all try all the time to push it from us. I’ve said here before that I think the west spends a great deal of its cultural energy secretly trying to either deny or defeat the fact of human mortality. It is the engine of our society, in many ways.
But I’ll admit that I, too, have spent a great deal of time in life trying to escape it. You keep thinking that if you just play your cards right, with determination and patience, you can “put all of that behind you” and achieve, finally, a state of safety and stability. Standing finally in this state once it has been achieved, you will be able to look forward to a long stretch of no death and no endings, the “regular life of adulthood,” in which you can forget about loss and about death for at least a couple of decades while you “live your life.”
Intellectually, I know that this is a silly sort of imagination. Emotionally, I think I do it as much as everyone else does. Trying to combat death and endings, to push them off into the shadows of decades hence, is a kind of fool’s game that everyone seems to play.
You can’t possibly win. So why do we continue to play? Why do I?
It’s a good way to waste a life, playing a game that can’t be won. And yet those moments of loss are so intense and unbearable that it seems nothing but sensible to try one’s best to avoid them, forestall them, subvert them somehow.
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© Aron Hsiao / 2007
Another fall is about to begin. Time marches on. People suffer. People die. Things end. Yes, new things begin, but the older you get, the smaller the number of beginnings in the world that might actually in some way belong to you.
They belong to others. They belong to the young, which you aren’t any longer.
It’s a funny thing, aging. I can see why people buy sports cars and miniskirts even in the years when such things make them look ridiculous. You don’t imagine yourself to be “older,” and I can’t conceive of ever feeling “old.”
You like stuff. You do it. You buy it. Just like you always did. When you look at tomorrow, “your life” is still ahead of you, even if in some abstract sense you understand that this life is considerably shorter now than it once was. But you don’t feel yourself moving along the path of linear time, positioned somewhere in the middle or beyond, rather than at the beginning of the segment that happens to be your life.
You feel the now, and the presence of possibility that is the yet-to-come. Just like always.
But it is your responsibility as a citizen of the world to look at where you are, and to realize that even if you can’t feel it, your role in the world is changing, and to try to remain young despite your years is to steal youth, in a way, from those that—like you—didn’t ask to be born but are here—and young—right now. It’s their prerogative, not yours.
When you’re old, you have a job. Your job is to be old.
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I want to age gracefully. I want to accept it. I reject as ugly the cultural admonitions (okay, let’s call them ads, for the most part) that this is somehow sad, and that the right position is to “fight it all the way.”
That’s the sad thing. Watching someone “fight all the way” in a game that they cannot win, that no one has ever won. It’s a waste of resources that could be spent elsewhere. And it tends to draw pity.
No, I want to be old and boring, not forever young (and expending more and more energy to appear so) and then suddenly dead, having never experienced much beyond youth and the fight to maintain it.
I’m ready to be late middle age. I’m even ready to be old, I think.
It will take me time to learn how to do it all properly, but I don’t plan to resist along the way.