As one gets old, something rather horrid and unsettling happens.
Everyone else gets older around you.
And the icons of our youth gradually turn into withered and less competent versions of their former inspirational selves. Clint Eastwood stops being a sexy uber-male with a humorous glint in his eye and turns into a rambling fool on a political stage. You go and see Simon and Garfunkel on stage one last time, and dear old Art can’t hit the high notes in Bridge over Troubled Water any more. People start petitions for Paul McCartney to stop singing at major events. And sometimes the luminaries of our youth startlingly drop off the twig altogether – like beloved soccer players Emlyn Hughes, Bobby Moore, Peter Osgood and Alan Ball.
It all serves terribly effectively to remind us of the transitory nature of life, and, inevitably, our own inexorable march across the years.
When there is less life ahead of us than behind us it can sometimes be more than a little difficult to deal with.
I have always considered the mid-life crisis so beloved of comedy writers to be symptomatic of a genuine existentialist crisis explored by Satre and others.
Age is an unforgiving, unrelenting mistress, no matter how one seeks to address its vicissitudes. Inevitably the thoughts that have pre-occupied mankind for millenia press in on you in a personal and intense manner. Why am I here? What is (or was) it all for? What happens when I’m not here any more? Will it matter? With every sombre retrospective of “those friends we have lost in the last year” at the BAFTAs or Oscars the effect simply multiplies.
In some senses, contemplating the brevity of life can be a spur to rise and “get on with it”. To make sure we perform more productively for whatever time we have left, and also to “smell the roses” more intently as we pass by them, hugging our children more often, and more pro-actively and intently letting good friends and spouses know that we appreciate their support and love down the years.
But sometimes, just the sheer shock of age catching up with some luminary can cast us headlong into a blue funk. Which is why I was firstly appalled to read that Yoko has just tripped over the big eight oh, but then, on reflection, allowed myself to be encouraged by her remarkable resilience, iconoclasm, talent, stoicism, energy, and obvious determination to live her life meaningfully right up to whenever the end is. As is so well revealed in this excellent article in The Nation.
I was one of millions who were genuinely distraught when we were robbed of the positive influence of John Lennon on the world. I can still feel the pang of the news, deep in my soul, and every time one of his immortal songs comes on the wireless. I am going to use the occasion of his wife’s 80th birthday to re-focus myself to whatever is left of the rest of my own life. That sounds terribly pompous and even asinine, and I don’t mean it in a “my life changed today” lightbulb moment type thing. I simply mean that, sitting around thinking this morning, contemplating Yoko at 80, I realised that whether my life has great meaning, or none – or whether it’s going on for another 5 minutes or another thirty years – these are ultimately, and truthfully, trivial matters.
When I join the lists of “Friends we have lost this year” I will be, I think, perfectly content if people confer over a cup of tea and a curled up egg and lettuce sandwich and cheerfully agree “Well, he was himself, that’s for sure.”
Because perhaps, in the final wash up, that’s what we really need to aim for.
To be content that “we were ourselves”. Because surely, that is what all other meaning will flow from. That is all it can flow from, right? If we are someone else’s vision of ourself, then really, what was it all for? What point can there be in submissively playing out a role imposed by other’s expectations, or hiding ourselves away, until it’s too late to risk being who we really are?
Well, in 55 years of reading, working, writing, loving, losing, not to mention a degree in Literature and a Theology degree to boot, and much pondering, that’s where I’ve got to, anyhow. I’m sure someone will point out that some crusty philosopher said it better three hundred years ago and I could have saved myself the introspection, but then I never really claimed to be edumacated.
Anyhow: what do you think?
So cheers, Yoko. Thanks for being yourself. Thanks for reminding us. Can’t wait to see what you do next.
- Yoko Ono at 80: her art and life with the Beatles (scotsman.com)
- Yoko Ono Turns 80 (on.aol.com)
- New John Lennon And Yoko Ono Book Gets The Seal Of Approval From Gere And Scorsese (contactmusic.com)
- Yoko Ono opens retrospective in Frankfurt (rawstory.com)
- Yoko Ono: happy 80th birthday! (guardian.co.uk)