I am with Albert Camus, not the cheeriest of sorts, who noted that “to have time was at once the most magnificent and the most dangerous of experiments. Idleness is fatal only to the mediocre.” And it is the potential magnificence of idle retirement that appeals to me.
Considering the dizzying gusto with which some address retirement I am unconvinced of any threat of idleness to the evolving “experiment“. Traditionally the perils of retirement relate to lack of purpose or meaning, fear of irrelevance or plain boredom. Perhaps the change of demographics to encompass an aging – but a seemingly perpetually productive and athletic population – has afforded a new preoccupation in retirement; namely, the meaning of life. It is a far less immediate contortion. It is patently galactic and therefore nourishes an exoticism such as distinguishes travel.
When one has had the privilege to live a long and predominantly rewarding life – to become skilful, to conduct a trade or calling, to cultivate meaningful relationships, to retire to the country with one’s book and bottle – hopefully one escapes the arrogance of Albert Camus regarding a lapse into the mediocrity of idleness. As always the secret to understanding the meaning of life – which by the way is the same question on its head as how does one enjoy living – is to decipher how to pose the correct question. Remember there are two ways to get down a river; viz., either you know where to go or you know where not to go. I have happily relinquished any ambition I might ever have had to comprehend the meaning of life or the extent of the universe. Whatever it is that exists beyond this planet and our galaxy is utterly irrelevant to me. I might further proclaim my willful ignorance and diminish the breadth of enquiry to limit it to the present and what is before my very eyes. Quite by accident the weather today is magnificent – vast blue, cloudless sky; fresh air; yellow sunshine. As my late mother was wont to observe, “What’s not to like!” This I am afraid is the unadulterated meaning of life.
As simple as the answer may be – and, yes, simple is good – it nonetheless strengthens the analysis to verbalize the product. In my case the preferable vernacular for personal expression is the written word – maybe because I fashion that a written account is endurable and at least capable of refinement. It may be because the writing is a record, a documentation of fact. It may also be – as I have recently read – that the taking of notes somehow enlarges the entire project, rather like encouraging a student to repeat a word when learning a language. This suggestion is naturally absurd; it is preposterous to suppose that writing or repeating in the written word or by mouth or whisper of anything will somehow make it better. What has on the contrary clearly worked is nothing more unusual than attention to detail.
I caution you not to be dismissive of this seemingly common manifest. Detail is the critical ingredient of artistic expression. Recognizing it on the other hand is not so simple; nor is its expression always possible without training or talent. Imperceptibly the question about the meaning of life translates to what gives meaning to life. And surprise! That’s where you come in! If there is any question about your qualification for the job, you start tomorrow!
Old age is like anything else. To make a success of it you have to start young!