As we age, we lose pieces of ourselves. In our youth, we could not conceive of the losses. How could it possibly be, we silently but mockingly wondered, that something so crucial to our sense of self could disappear into the vapor of time? How could our hearing fail? How could our sexual prowess diminish so thoroughly? How could we come to rely on canes for balance, instead of depending on our innate abilities to remain upright and strong? It was inconceivable, in the arrogance of youth, to think we might ever need false teeth or oxygen bottles or countless pills and capsules or inhalers or compression garments.
Bearing the scars of battles with time—too many of which we lost—we finally limp into the sunset, declaring victory in a war against eternity. It is the same war we dismissed, in our youth, as being fought against an imaginary enemy. Yet here we are on the cusp of a victory we know we will never win. The afterlife, a fantasy born of fear, still promises eternal joy. Except for those of us who feel confident that life and afterlife are one in the same. After life, we believe, the circle begins anew. Once again, we return to the stardust from whence we came. But we’ll never again be conscious of the cycle in which we place our “faith.” Because, like youth, once life is over, it’s over. We become deconstructed humans; food for one-celled organisms and energy for oak trees and poison ivy and raccoons.
Few of us long for the day we’ll begin to decompose and disappear. Many of us, though, attempt to delay that moment for as long as possible. Life-saving surgeries, death-delaying pills, exercise regimens designed to deceive our muscles and delude our cells. We start the deceptions early, pretending even in our teens and twenties that we enjoy stressing our bodies and eating bland, taste-defying fibers. Just as long as our sacrifices extend our lives by days or weeks or months, the atonement for our natural sins is worth the pain!
But is the pain of surviving worth sacrificing the process of living? A relatively new favorite song includes a line that goes, “surviving is easy, living is hard.” It’s a bittersweet tune by a Canadian artist; I am relatively sure I’ve written about Ken Yates’ music. Given that he’s Canadian, you can trust that his songs come from the heart. I know, that’s just so much B.S., but I like to believe it.
The conceit of youth is so maddening, in one sense, and so beautifully hopeful, in another. I largely wasted my youth. And once that’s gone, it’s damn near impossible to retrieve all the value that was mindlessly thrown away. But you keep trying. You try to resurrect the youth that you so carelessly misspent. You fail, of course, but you try anyway. And trying, sometimes, is almost as valuable as succeeding.