The revelation was not immediate. It did not come to me overnight as it did to the protagonist in Kafka’s Metamorphosis. No, bits of information, obscure hints, the odd clue, had nagged at the edges of my mind for months. They would intrude on my thinking occasionally, most often in the small hours of the morning when there is only dark for company. Often when occupied with something not requiring conscious thought. Often when I am running; when I am most alone with myself.
I suddenly realized one evening, as my measured pace carried me into the twilight, that I had become a cliche’. It is, I suddenly realized, the first true sign of aging. That time when you understand that you are redundant. Not that you no longer have anything to contribute. No, it is the realization that more and more of your past begins to creep into you conversations, coloring your idioms. I had, I realized, begun to repeat myself and so have begun to fall into silence. The ghosts that hover about me are real only to me, speak only to me, listen only to me. They speak of calm water on a fall day reflecting the heavens
in the dark green depths of the water. They murmur of the thrill of standing on water skis for the first time, a thrill not unlike skiing down the side of a mountain for the first time. Of holding hands for the first time, of whispering I love you in the darkness of the night. All of those and so much more swirl about me as I run and I understand. I understand.
Straining forward into the lengthening shadows, I felt this isolation particularly keenly. We live in a world where people, it seems, no longer have any sense of history. Apologists, quick to explain the ignorance of a generation, explain away the ignorance by reducing old knowledge to irrelevance. Shaking my head, I felt the lack of that excuse. It is true. I don?t know the icons of modern culture and dismiss most I come across as unimportant. Movie stars and athletes, pale imitations of figures of the past. How can they not know Lincoln, or Luther, or Aquinas. Each impact of my foot on the pavement brings forth a new name. Quiet Ghandi, who brought down an empire.
I understand that no culture remains static. That cultural icons change. But this seems to be the first generation that truly is ignorant of its past. Probably an unfair assessment, and yet the vapid commentary that the media passes off as news is troubling. I seldom watch the news anymore. Stories of international importance either are reduced to a sound byte or are ignored altogether and chatty talking heads speak of this star’s or that athlete’s marriage, or divorce, or childbirth, or latest brush with the law. More for entertainment rather than for passing information. This generation, has the attention span of a gnat. I’m tilting at windmills, I thought, certain of it. One of the obscure bits of information that led me to this juncture in the first place.
The air was quiet in the growing darkness. Warm. And the birds fussed as they began to settle in for the night. I had, I realized, changed my outlook on how I contemplated my own death. At 30, we know ourselves to be immortal. We are arrogantly optimistic and laugh at the practical fatalism of our elders. Time is on our side at 30. We think that if we take reasonable care, we will live forever. While the occasional disappearance of a friend or acquaintance might give us pause, we usually point to some obvious mistake; a mistake we surely will not make ourselves.
When we reach our 60s, I thought, when we reach our 60s, we understand that time no longer is on our side. It passes with a depressing rapidity and shoves the fact of our own mortality into our faces. It was, I knew, no longer a question of if, but of when. I have begun to read the obituaries, not so much because I care about the subject whose life is summarized in a few perfunctory sentences, but because I am looking for the age. This self admission made me smile as I realized I was stealing time from these obituaries. If this man can live to 90, why then, so can I. Or so my reasoning runs. Does the octogenarian read the obituaries with the same question or has the matter become irrelevant by then. Not so encouraging reading the obituaries of contemporaries. And so I run.
Our ancestors were existentialists. You worked with the hand which was dealt to you and understood that the 8 year old was as mortal as the 80 year old. We have come to view the death of the 8 year old as unfair, as if there were a written guarantee somewhere that somehow had been unfairly voided.
The sun had dropped below the horizon as I neared the end of my run and I continued on, into the growing darkness.