Age is a thing that sneaks up on you while your feeling vibrant and robust. It jumps out of the shadows like a scary monster in a film – ‘Aaaaargh!’ it says, and you jump back in shock.
One day you discover that something you took for granted is not available in such voluminous quantity any more, or worse maybe, it is not available at all – and never will be again! It is that shock of grabbing a door handle to have it come off in your hand, it is hearing the news that your bank has just gone out of business. It is bereavement, a terminal illness. In practical terms it is finding yourself relating every small detail of an incident from twenty years ago but not being able to remember the point you began making by recounting it.
Age! What a strange thing. It draws you up to a lofty perspective, an altogether superior view, while at the same time it is sucking you down toward the inevitable conclusion of the matter.
Woody Allen said: ‘I don’t want to achieve immortality through my work, I want to achieve it by not dying!’
Well who doesn’t? It is peculiar thing grafted into the spirit of man that he should live forever. An absurd thought. Yet there it is, standing like a ridiculous folly. Universal and bizarre.
Dostoevsky once wrote about a mock execution he endured while a political prisoner: He heard the death sentence passed in the public square. ‘We shall all be with Christ’ he whispered instinctively to a friend beside him. ‘A bit of dust’ his atheist friend laconically replied.
When it comes to living forever, you either believe you will or you don’t. Or to put it another way, you either have faith or you don’t. Dostoevsky and his companion both extrapolated their future beyond the firing squad with a lashing integrity, speaking as they believed, and believing as life had proved to them. For it is a fact that you can find as ample proof for faith, as you can for faithlessness.
Which only goes to say that nobody has ‘faith’ unless something from outside has moved upon the deep of the soul to set fire to the dust he is surely composed of. For nothing from inside has the power to truly save. If you reach inside you will only find a black lifeless dust, a craving to exist without the wherewithal. It has to be something outside of you that imparts faith. Faith is a supernatural belief and it does not arrive by conjuring it up in imagination. It arrives with power, and that is its own proof.
Faith is an abiding hope in a light that is not yours. That light might at times seem no more than a small glimmer, but it becomes all the easier to see as the darkness grows darker.
Its obverse, a lack of faith, in all its many expressions, has become the illumination of our modern times: A proposition that if we can all get together, we can collectively out-shine, out-flank and eclipse any other light by the sheer combined intensity of our own. Which of course, we can do for a while. But each individual light must eventually go out and leave its owner in darkness. No matter how bright it burns, how well it has illuminated a way for others.
Dostoevsky had put his faith squarely in that one light. The one that keeps on shining after the others have gone out.
But I started talking about age. And that is because I was sixty recently.
SIXTY! – That’s three score without the ten.
People start to mention the possibility of a bus pass, of getting two hundred quid from the government for a ‘winter heating’ allowance, all manner of new portends become the fodder of hilarity and scoffing. I don’t mind, it is funny.
Funny to think I made it this far.