There are moments when I have reason to stop daydreaming and pause to consider the greater questions in life.
It is not a very fashionable practice anymore, but I suppose I have become a bit—what you might call—old school.
There was a time when such an admission would have been too distasteful—you know, when I was young and was going to tear down all that was old and staid. We—my generation—were going to make this world a better place. The road to hell . . .
On the grand scale, I doubt I have had much impact in any of that, but on a more local level . . . sure only time will tell.
I am, now, what my younger self would have called ‘old’ and one piece of evidence that my journey has not been without progress is that I can now forgive my younger self his arrogance and vanity. After all, what is the point of youth without these things—inverted or otherwise?
Having been indoctrinated from infancy by well-meaning zealots, I struggled with the meaning and purpose of life for far too long. Who wouldn’t after being told that there is a great power above that oversees all—and that it was a power for good?
It made such little sense when all around me was Bedlamic.
That, I was told, was self-will run riot. It was our true test, they told me: overcoming the self to be part of the one spirit of the universe. To be one with our God-like nature!
That made a lot of sense when I was high but shriveled up when I had to go out among the other inmates of the planet we all call home. They told me, in words and deeds, that it was really about taking as much as you can, giving only what you had to, and to always look out for number one. After all, they told me, God helps those that help themselves.
Yes, but I learned how to deal with things like that. My younger self worked on the buildings sites of London, along with the swearing Paddies, drinking our evenings away in the pubs and parks of Kilburn, with a crumpled, dog-eared copy of The Prophet in the back pocket of my jeans.
The others would make fun of me, but with a certain kindness that wasn’t their normal social currency. They, in a sad kind of way, encouraged me—if only not to become what they had become; trapped in caricature. Not that being a philosophical labourer didn’t come with its own baggage.
Add to that I was, back then, what was once called a wandering minstrel. I played guitar and sang the songs that would change everything, if only people listened to the words. They didn’t and the world went on about its way to whatever end we are designing for it.
With all that we now know about ourselves and the planet we all call home, it could become a source of dread, if you let it.
Be positive, they told me, and always look on the bright side.
Jaysus wept, said I to my younger self, are they all mad?
Now, my older self, knows that we are. We are all mad and we live in a Bedlam of our own creation.
Only we don’t admit it—that would be madness. Instead, we all stick to our agendas, personal or public. We find rationality in our tenets and our causes and we get to look down our noses at any and all who think differently. We demand that we, and those who think like us, be treated fairly while we hurl intolerance and abuse at those who don’t. We are right and everyone else is wrong.
My older self has come to the sad realization that it has always been like this. All of our great movements; Royalism, Nationalism, Sectarianism. Secularism, Communism, Socialism, Capitalism, Genderism, all things that were to have united us in cause or purpose but, in the end, became little more than reasons to divide ourselves and render us to those who would conquer us.
But here’s the part that my older self believes is the point: none of that matters.
Life is all that we say it is. It is the bitter, sweet journey from the cradle to the grave. Full of wonder and woe and all the things in between. A test? An experience? A chance to atone for past crimes against out better natures? Why not? It makes as much sense as anything else.
Despite the challenges of the future, and the numbing nearness of our long-prophesied and catastrophic doom, my older self is accepting of our fate and strives to be no more than happy in just finding the right word, or gesture, that might help another along their way. Because, looking back, I have come to realize that my better moments came about because of the kindness of others.
And that is enough to be getting on with for today. Good luck to you all.