One of the most asked questions ever. And well into the 21st century it remains unanswered. Even Google falters at this one in an age where image and instant reign on a glorious and exalted unsatisfying high.
For the last six months I have been slowly but surely dismantling the material elements which made up my late father’s life. The process is almost complete, a few final loose ends to tie up and then all semblance of his daily life will be gone and only memories, photographs and a few small heirlooms will survive. You would have to look hard to know he had lived and breathed on this earth for 92 years. What meaning did they have for him – perhaps his four children, three marriages or his Christian religion stoically observed Sunday after Sunday. I will never know.
Both parents gone and you seriously begin to think about your own mortality – the creeping weeks and months which so rapidly descend into years. Don’t let anyone tell you that time doesn’t speed up the older you get – I so does! And yet, with my father’s genes and a brisk prevailing wind I may well see one score year and ten more. Thirty plus more birthdays, thirty plus New Year resolutions to make and break. Thirty plus more chances to live meaningfully.
The thought both elates and alarms in equal measure. On days when things are going well that doesn’t seem long at all – just over half as much again as I have already skipped through – not long into which to squeeze the rest of my life! On others when all seems bleak the time stretches gloomily into a distant grey horizon – oh my, at least half as much again as I have already stressed my way through – how will I fill those long hours and days, keep the anxieties at bay, avoid the blackest clouds and stumble my way to my final hour.
We are cajoled, coaxed, coerced and consumerised into believing that a state of constant happiness is our goal. But the foundation stone of capitalism has become our stumbling block as the constant seeking of happiness proves forever elusive. We try to access it with things, we view it as a destination to be reached and once there we can reside for ever and a day. But I suspect that state cannot be sustained, and is unlikely to provide the meaning for which we search. I don’t think I would want it that way. The meaning and purpose of our lives can often be found in the darkest corners, in those hours which seem the most bleak. But when we eventually emerge into the light once more oh how much sweeter. Like the colours in a painting, the light shines so much more brightly when placed next to the darkest hue.
The meaning is in the doing, in the striving, the anticipation and in the possibility. When we push ourselves beyond our comfort zone, when we are prepared to take a risk, when we allow ourselves to step beyond our familiar threshold and let go. Those times we spend alone, absorbed by our activity and undistracted we truly live the moment. These are the experiences which paint our emotional memories. Sometimes they burn us, sometimes elate but they are soaked into our soul just as the warmth of the sun will transfer the image from a negative onto the salt paper, the fine details captured for posterity. These are the ones which we will recall when we reach our eleventh hour. These are the details which give life meaning.
‘Afternoon Blues’ by Rebecca Pells
available from https://www.fineartseen.com/product/afternoon-blues/