Friday, 27 February 2015

Thirty Nine More Summers

This morning, I woke up to the sad news that Leonard Nimoy (aka Mr Spock from Star Trek) had died at the age of 83.  I was saddened for the loss of one of the characters with whom I had grown up with, and whose spats with Captain Kirk I had enjoyed to watch play out on screen and whose underlying love and respect for each other was always evident, even in their darkest moments.  Although deeply saddened by the news, it was another thought that occurred to me, the realisation of which shocked me rather suddenly and more deeply.

The thought that came unbidden to my mind was that if I also am to live to the age of 83 years, I will see only another 39 more summers.  Old age and death have always seemed so remote to my thinking.  I never ponder them since they are the inevitability of life and there is nothing that I can do about either of them.  With each key stroke on my keyboard, I have aged.  With each key stroke on my keyboard, I have moved inexorably towards my end.  Everyday, we live out our lives and at the end of each, we are sure that we have many more ahead of us, many more opportunities to change things, to do all of those things that we wish to do, to fulfill our dreams.  "I'll do it tomorrow."  "I'll get around to it next week."  "I'll do that next year."  I too have these thoughts.  I am sure every single one of us has them for one reason or another.  There is after all, only so much that can be achieved within a day.

Each day of our lives is already filled with so much that we have to accomplish in order to survive.  School, university, and work take up huge amounts of our time for those of us not yet retired.  That's 33% of our time allocated at least and if not more.  Sleep accounts for around another 33% of our time.  Now we are left with about 30% of 'free time'.  But is that time free?  We have to eat.  In order to eat we must prepare food.  In order to prepare food we must go and purchase some groceries.  There's administration of our lives to deal with too - paying bills and banking, checking insurance policies, and so on.  Slowly, the amount of free time ebbs away.  This is before we factor in any time for checking Facebook, Twitter and other social media, before we catch up on the news and perhaps the weather.  And if you happen to be a parent...  Well, my mind boggles with that one! How do we fit it all in?  When do we find the time for ourselves?  Where are the quiet moments of contemplation and thought, for reflective thinking and for making sense of everything that is going on?  And whilst you are thinking this, a nagging thought sits in your head, "I should call Mum and Dad."

Time is not on our side.  It marches on, flowing like an uncontrolled torrent whose waters we can try to slow down and dam, but the attempt to do so is futile.  Eventually the dam will break and the water will flow on towards its final destination, where the river is lost within the ocean.  Our days are numbered.  Those of us who are fortunate enough to live without illness or disease, we think of ourselves as immortal and untouched, but we are not.  From the moment we come into this world in a physical state, we begin the slow process of decay. The cycle of life must be completed.  I recall at this moment a line from Mr Keating in the movie Dead Poets Society, "We are food for worms boys."  Our time of life will inevitably cease and we will indeed go back to the earth where our bodies will nourish the soil and become new life.

I feel that there is a paradox that haunts human life.  When we are in the midst of it, we feel that we are immortal, that we will go on forever, that we will always exist, even though we know that logically this cannot be the case.  We know that life must come to an end but it is always the end of a different life, not our own and in this way of thinking, perhaps we sidestep the inevitable - that we too must one day cease to exist.  There is a part of me that is thinking as I write this, that maybe this way of thinking is driven by the fact that our spirit and essence of life knows a different story.  That the body my die but the soul lives on eternal?  Or perhaps we have tricked ourselves and conjured up another Santa Claus because we cannot face the thought that this is really it?  Whatever your thoughts on life, death and the after-life, there is one inescapable thing: the body, as a living organism cannot survive indefinitely.  Our days are numbered.  How then should we live out those days?  

Mr Spock was famous for his saying, "Live long and prosper."  I'd like to add something to this because I feel it is not complete.  It lacks a kind of definition.  What does he mean by prosper?  For me, to prosper in life is to live happily, a deep rooted, in the guts of your stomach and a fluttering of the heart kind of happy.  Prosperity is not economic and monetary success.  I thought about this yesterday actually and how I often say that we should look on the world through the eyes of a child.  When I thought about that yesterday, I changed my mind about it.  I would rather look upon the world as a dog sees it.  A dog lives their life in the moment; they find joys in the simplest of pleasures, they make the most of what they have, when they have it; they wear their heart on their sleeve for everyone to see - their emotions are plainly and sometimes painfully evident; and a dog craves love and gives love unconditionally.  That is the way to live - isn't it?

So then, if I am to enjoy (for summer is my time of great enjoyment) only another 39 summers, I had better make the most of every single one.  If I am going to suck all of the marrow out of life (thank you Henry Thoreau) then I should do so today, starting right now.  If there is something that you have planned to do, begin it today.  Make a start.  I can assure you that once the movement begins, it will inevitably gather pace and momentum.  Please don't leave important things undone.  Say I love you. Offer a smile to the world. Make a positive difference.  Our time may be short, but by golly, we can make it such a time as to be worthy of being remembered, a time that will echo across eternity to the furthest star of the universe.  Live long and prosper by all means but just make sure that along the way you love, that the love starts with you, and you wag your tail as much as you darn well can for as long as you are able.

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Thursday, 8 May 2014

The Time Is Now

To act, or not to act?  That is really the question that Shakespeare should have asked.  Whether it is more noble to act in a positive manner and to contribute to society, or to do nothing, and complain and moan about the state of everything?  I will always chose positive action over negativity and lethargy any day.  Yesterday, I witnessed an incident that reinforced my thoughts about our societies and made me wonder when are people going to wake up to the fact that they are the society in which they live?

As I walked the pavements of London, I saw a woman cycling her bicycle alongside a stream of cars, all making their way home from work.  Almost at the instant that I saw this cyclist, her shopping bag gave way, spilling several apples, that rolled on to road, until they came to a stop right in the middle of the road.  Too far away to lend assistance, I watched as the woman fought to balance her bicycle and at the same time, to pick up the apples.  Some people walked past on the pavement, the cars continued on.  Not one person stopped to give assistance.  Not one car paused to allow the woman more room.  In this one moment was a clear demonstration of everything that I believe to be wrong in our modern societies.

How would you have acted?  Would you have run to give aid and help.  Perhaps you would, but ask yourself truthfully, would you really?  It is all too easy to say to yourself that it is not my problem, that she will be okay, that someone else will stop, that I would like to stop but I really have to get to that appointment, to get home to put on the dinner, to go to the gym, to walk the dog, to pick up the kids.  The excuses go on and on.  Our modern and sophisticated society seems to always tell us that it is some else's responsibility, to provide an excuse for not acting, and for not being held accountable for your actions.

Here's another situation you will find yourself in.  You walk along the street and you see some litter laying on the pavement.  What do you do?  Do you stop, pick it up and carry it to the nearest rubbish bin?  Or do you mutter to yourself about the state of people these days and complain about where your tax payments have gone and leave the litter exactly where it is?  It's not your job to clean up after someone else is it?  That is the job of the local council, that is what unemployed people should do to earn their welfare, that is what criminals should do to help make amends for their wrong doings.  Why should you do it?  After all, you did not put it there.

As far as I can see, the trend in our society is to become annoyed, to complain about how things are, to accept them, to turn a blind eye, and to pass on the responsibility.  This is wrong.  Some people will say that capitalism is to blame because it breeds a culture of selfishness and greed.  It does not.  That is just another excuse that you give yourself for your lack of action.  We are all part of our society and as such, we each have a direct responsibility to make the society in which we wish to live.  We are all accountable for the state of things.  It is not the fault of the government, our economic system, materialism, the local council, immigrants, nor the youth.  It is your fault.

In the Bible, Jesus told the parable of the good Samaritan.  The Samaritan was the person who took pity on the man at the side of the road who was in great need of help.  This only occurred after other respected persons (a priest, a levite) in the society at the time had passed him by and done nothing.  This is exactly the same as now.  People are walking past, turning away, and doing nothing.  It is not a question of religion.  Neither is it a question of race, gender, or age.  It is for each of us to do something to turn this around and to change it.

I was in New Zealand recently, at Lake Taupo.  As I walked from my motel into the town one morning, I saw on a picnic table discarded fast food wrappers and cartons.  It made a horrible mess.  No more than 5 metres (15 feet) away was a rubbish bin.  At first, I muttered to myself about the laziness of people and I walked past the table.  But I could only walk a few more paces before I was forced to turn around.  I walked purposely back to the table, picked up all of the litter and put it into the rubbish bin.  A woman passed me by as I did this and gave me a big smile.  This was my reward for my unselfish action.  Later that morning, I thought some more about what had happened.  By clearing the table, I made a woman happy.  I also made sure that from that moment on, no one else would see it, no one else would have cause to complain and to have negative thoughts which could spoil their morning.  I made sure that the picnic table could be used again.  It meant that the local council workers could focus on more important matters.  I did something positive.  The ripples of my action spread wider than I had first realised.  Indirectly, I had touched the lives of others in a positive way.  I had contributed to the society in which I found myself in a positive way and for that, I felt good inside.  I took that situation and made it into a positive experience.

I am no saint.  I am not perfect by any means.  What I do want to do though, is to make a difference.  I want to know that I tried, that I did not sit idly, that I did not just complain and moan about the state of the world and society.  I want to know that I helped people, that I reached out through my actions to enrich those around me.  I have a strong belief that if others started to act in a positive way, to begin to take care of those around them and the societies in which they lived, others would begin to do the same.  Once a cause gathers momentum, it quickly experiences a snowball effect.  The minority becomes the norm.

We each have the power to make society in the form that we wish to see and experience it.  Each of us is responsible.  Most of us are luck enough to live in a free society, we enjoy freedoms of choice.  This is your choice.  Do or not do.  You have the power to change.  It only takes one spark to light a fire.  Take your energy and do something good.  Quit complaining, stop saying it is someone else's fault, and start doing something positive about it.  Each of us can make the difference.  Many ripples that join in harmony become a wave.  Let's create waves and make the change.  The time is now.
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