(Another of those really happy-go-lucky psalms!)
Who’d have thought it? Seventy years old. But why do I still feel, oh, I don’t know – young? In my head, that is. I can’t put an age to it. I don’t feel forty, or twenty, I just feel – young. At least, it’s how I remember feeling when I was young.
Of course, there’s a lot more experience of life inside my head than when I was a youth. For instance, I know now that politicians have no more idea of how to run a country than the rest of us. When I was young I thought they were especially trained to do it, at Oxford, or Cambridge, or Harvard. Now I know that’s bunkum. It’s only power they seek, even the good ones who have some crusading spirit to help people, lose it when they’ve been in power for a few years.
I know that life’s too precious to waste, and yet we all waste it doing stupid things because when we’re young we won’t listen to those older, and wiser in life, than us.
When I was young I was eager to know stuff. I made the mistake of listening to my elders, but not those who may have set me on the right path, but preachers, schoolteachers, and of course, politicians, and media outlets I now know to have been of somewhat dubious origin.
I’ve since learned there is very little that’s written, broadcast, or otherwise dispersed among the masses as ‘knowledge’, that isn’t anything other than one person’s opinion. It may, or may not, be based on certain verifiable facts, but it’s rare to find information that can be truly accepted as one hundred percent authentic, totally untainted by the mindset of the individual from which it emanates.
This is not necessarily to cast aspersions. The above paragraph relates equally to the writer of Sparrow Chat, as to any other source, but the essence of wisdom is surely in verification of information as factual, rather than blind acceptance of whatever’s put out by the media, be it radio, TV, newsprint, or the rantings of bloggers on the internet.
Sadly, human tendency is to believe that which we want to believe, however unlikely the material, and discard those matters that disturb our belief system of the moment even if they can be proved to be factual. It’s the reason we consistently navigate to those sources that reinforce our belief systems. National newspapers invariably support a particular political stance and we find ourselves gravitating to those tomes that express opinions (often as fact) closest to our own, similarly with TV news channels,
And then, of course, there’s the vexed question of religion. I was brought up as a member of the protestant Church of England. It took me a while to realize the word ‘protestant’ was derived from ‘protest’, but not too much longer to understand that particular protest was against the Roman Catholic church. It was my first insight into religion as a great divider.
I rebelled against Sunday School from my first introduction. My mother insisted I attend from the age of five. It wasn’t that I didn’t believe in the man who was nailed to a cross for my sins, just that I’d have preferred to be out riding my bike.
In later years, I developed more of an interest in the ‘spiritual’ side of life and began researching more esoteric religions, in the manner of the Beatles but without the drugs. They came even later.
Eventually, and inevitably, I discovered that all the ‘Gods’ that people chose to worship, the Heavens, Nirvanas, Vaikunthas, and Elysiums they believe will provide immortality, aren’t ‘out there’ somewhere, but are inside our heads. It’s all a part of our ‘belief systems’, conjured up to provide a reason for living (and dying) that otherwise doesn’t seem to exist.
I learned that religion isn’t spread by love, despite the teachings of most of them, but via torture, pain, suffering, and war. In reality, it’s no more than a marketing tool designed to blind us to the truth. It’s not difficult for most of us to see the falsity of Scientology or Mormonism, yet we cling determinedly to our own ‘brand’ of religion, just as we will often stick with one particular product manufacturer, or political party, for no better reason than it’s the one most familiar.
The question then is, at the turning of three score years and ten, have I learned the truth about life? I would be a foolish man indeed if I said that I had. But I have learned that religion and politics are both shams, closely related. It’s impossible to keep them apart for long. The American Founding Fathers tried and failed ignominiously.
On a personal level, I have not discovered one wit of evidence to support any form of human immortality, nor any transcendental beings waiting to welcome us after we die. These ideas have probably been coded into our brains over many generations. If evidence were needed as to the ability of the human imagination to translate the most dubious and incredible fantasies into ‘fact’, we have only to surf the internet briefly to discover a plethora of such fancies.
Today we tend to live longer than our ancestors, but the turning of three score years and ten is, perhaps, the greatest of life’s milestones. Most of us still work through at least the first half of our sixties, but as seventy is reached I find myself looking down a long and somewhat slippery slope to old age and eventual death. I know my body will never again be fitter than it is today, and that even if I remain healthy my bodily tissues will be ever more rapidly preparing themselves for the inevitable shutdown. It may not happen for a long time. I’m one of very few fortunate people to have reached this time of my life and still have one parent alive and active – my father is in his 101st year, lives alone, and still drives to do his weekly shopping.
When I was a young teenager I anticipated dying at around fifty. I thought that sufficiently far off to not trouble me, rather like a dentist’s visit still six months away. I’ve managed a bit more than that, and hopefully will continue for a while longer. I’ve found growing old to have its comforts. I think we lose our fear of death and, frankly, I wouldn’t want immortality now if it were handed to me on a silver platter. I do regret that’ll I’ll eventually ‘shuffle off this mortal coil’ with unanswered questions. Curiosity has dogged me all my life and is the only reason I might consider hanging on another few hundred years, just to see if the human species can pick itself up by its bootstraps and make something of itself, or perish like most of its special ancestors.
I believe this is what the late Carl Sagan meant when he wrote:
I would love to believe that when I die I will live again, that some thinking, feeling, remembering part of me will continue. But as much as I want to believe that, and despite the ancient and worldwide cultural traditions that assert an afterlife, I know of nothing to suggest that it is more than wishful thinking.”
As I approach that grand old biblical age of three score years and ten, I’ve certainly discovered one unassailable fact about human life and death: ‘wishful thinking’ rarely, if ever, conjures up the truth.
 “Billions & Billions: Thoughts on Life and Death at the Brink of the Millennium”, Carl Sagan 1997, Ballantine Books.