Sunday, 17 January 2016

Life? Get on with it ...

Life’s for Living

Ignore the creak of limbs,
The ache of climbing stairs,
Old age is still life;
Get on with it.
Ignore the failings of the world
Ideas you fought for,
Not achieved.
Old age is your reward;
Get on with it.
When the heart expires,
The breathing stops,
When light goes out,
Relax; what was once old age,
Is now something else.
Get on with it.

The late, great Louis Armstrong once said “If I’d known I was going to live this long, I’d have taken more care of myself.” As I approach the age of 73, I count myself lucky that despite years of self-abuse, the over-eating, the tons of tobacco I’ve consumed and the gallons of beer, I still have enough residual energy for this sedentary occupation of writing.    In the space of a month three popular icons of entertainment have left us, all brought down by that busy deputy of the Grim Reaper, cancer. If we’d lost actor Alan Rickman before December, no doubt the media would have quoted his famously delivered line in his role as Sheriff  of Nottingham; “Christmas is cancelled!” In Ace of Spades, Motorhead’s  Lemmy famously sang “I don’t wanna live forever”. On his final album, in the song Lazarus, David Bowie sings “Look up here, I’m in heaven.” All three of these performers had their Biblical three score and ten; Rickman and Bowie at 69, Lemmy at 70. They had full lives where their talents were recognised and they were duly rewarded, and rightly so. Yet today and tomorrow many other human beings of equal yet overlooked ability will expire, some only to be recognised decades after their passing. I often think of Vincent van Gogh in this respect; how would he have felt had he known that his paintings would one day sell for millions of dollars, often to people who only see art as an investment, rather than an inspirational pleasure?
Mortality is a grim subject to air in the bitter depths of January, but every time a famous person’s passing makes the news, it should make those of us ordinary folk still living more determined to make more of the life we have, not only for ourselves, but for those around us. People assume that somehow the gym, jogging, botox, vitamin supplements, fame and wealth will keep mortality at bay. However, even if you win the next Euro-millions rollover, if the reaper wants you, you’ll have to go. But that shouldn’t be a depressing thought; it should inspire us to be better human beings. Sadly, even writing these words makes me a hypocrite, because I can be irritable, tetchy and often intolerant. There is much in the 21st century world to rail against. Maybe the secret to improvement is at least an element of self-recognition when it comes to your flaws. I know my lovely wife, Wendy, would be quick to point out that most of the sentiments I’m expressing here will appear to be at odds with my inherent impatience.

When you’re in your 20s the idea of your mortality is very different to when you're 50. At my wedding in 1966, if someone had said I’d be celebrating 50 years of marriage in 2016, it would have seemed like science fiction. In some ways it is. But as those 50 years rolled on, life and the way it was lived became more important. As you pass the half century mark, things begin to happen; your parents grow old and expire, children grow up and became parents in their own right, and all the love and affection you’ve spent a lifetime building up becomes much more valuable. We can choose to concentrate more on our friendships, become caring and careful, and try to consider others before ourselves. Those who have not yet passed through middle age can steal a march on us old folk by starting that process now. The  modern world is in a bad way. Religion is no longer a beacon to better behaviour. There are too many competing gods and they all seem to be intolerant of one another. Politics struggles to move us forward, yet remains ineffective. It’s down to us; the way we behave to one another, how much help and understanding we give to our neighbours, family and friends, the way we listen, the way we speak.

So as the endless obituaries prove, we don’t live for ever. If you do get to my age, it has a title: I call it ‘The Season of Funerals’. Your contemporaries, either those close to you or those big names you admire, begin to drop like flies.

Our late lovely daughter, Sarah, taken by cancer on December 23 2012, aged 46, always said she’d never wanted to become “an old woman”, yet by her caring nature, with 30 years working in the NHS, she had a full, happy life, kind and understanding. She left us a legacy of good memories - and that’s something we should all aim for. As Louis Armstrong suggested; ‘It’s a wonderful world’. It would be nice if the world woke up to that fact and tried to make it so.

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