Unless you were in the movies it’s pretty much assured that no one remembers you and that nobody cares. Even the essence of rock stars and concert pianists diffuses with lightning speed. This is particularly guaranteed if your genes are such that you’ve begun to outlive your friends and acquaintances; or that you have the unconscious distinction to enjoy better health than they. It is the tyranny of truth that – apart perhaps from one’s grandchildren – time will soon erode anything but anecdotal memories of even the once famous or accomplished. Certainly for the majority of us the eclipse is rapid. It’s initially a depressing realization that one can’t recollect any more than the broadest details of one’s own life; and you awaken to the acceptance of mounting insignificance and irrelevance. It’s a decline hardly touched by the putative brilliance – like the last flicker of a candle – of writing one’s obituary. You won’t be around to savour it; and for those who are it will form but a brief interruption of the day.
Curiously this sobering consequence of life doesn’t avoid its glamour. Nor is old age the problem. Youth doesn’t alter anything other than the sudden familiarity with the result. While we’re young so much of our interest and assessment is devoted to – and distracted by – positioning ourselves to whatever seized us for the moment. It isn’t uncommon to spend 25 years educating oneself; then another 30 – 40 employing the talent. By that time the burnout has begun and the former meaning of all we’ve done or been starts to evaporate.
If it bothers you that suddenly you’re nothing more than a blip on the page of history then you’ve missed the point. The violation of time is that it appears to negate all we’ve done. Not accidentally is it that our treasured material possessions are among the disintegration or passage. It is well accepted for example that with the exception of collectors and the few others driven by commercial interest no one really wants your old stuff.
Yet as I say there is the beguiling glamour of life. However tiresome our legacy may be for others it is nonetheless a gold mine for us. My personal account of the past – if I were asked to give one – would rise to no more than a schoolbook entry upon graduation, a succinct summary of “did” and “was” perhaps couched in abstruse detail but otherwise not elevated to any manifest import. The appeal that remains is not the record of the past but its synthesis. The amalgamation of our life renders a far different character than its division and analysis. The picture is as changeable as the weather, like managing the clouds or the sunshine.
It is the viaticum of life that, with a moderation of heedfulness, we’re bestowed a glimpse into the delicacy of the senses. Jean Genet spoke of being in prison and cupping his farts to his nose. Naturally the particularity will be different for each of us. My life now is shamelessly driven by consumption not production. Nor do I regret that my pinchbeck appetites are constrained by both amount and depth. Some are able to enlarge their expenditure by more critical study. But the extent to which one uses resource is no different now than it ever was. To think otherwise is to devolve upon historic ambitions which have long ago proven to be of limited sustaining value.
The glamour of living – like anything else – depends not upon what is seen but upon how we see it. It is a primitive but keen sense. It is our duty to endow life with that grain of salt which one has oneself to “add to taste” to extract any savour from our narrative. Nor is this an oversimplification. In my experience everything is underwritten by the purest fibre. It constitutes my greatest current amusement to discover those threads. From time to time I’ve undertaken an exposition of various catchphrases to assist in the pursuit. It is moderately fulfilling to do so. The real pleasure is the distillation and then drinking the liquor. It is all that remains of consequence. Each component is a window through which to reflect. The yellow lamplight burnishes the mahogany and the leather. The cup of coffee, the cool apple sauce and the tranquilizing music are resplendent choices. I shall carry with me the gems of my existence. At times an overwhelming gush of emotion irrigates my eyes. But it only floods the memories and washes them away.
Let us go then, you and I,
When the evening is spread out against the sky
Like a patient etherized upon a table;
Let us go, through certain half-deserted streets,
The muttering retreats
Of restless nights in one-night cheap hotels
And sawdust restaurants with oyster-shells:
Streets that follow like a tedious argument
Of insidious intent
To lead you to an overwhelming question …
Oh, do not ask, “What is it?”
Let us go and make our visit.
The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock by T. S. Eliot