[Previously on Wonderers: All the events that add meaning to one’s life. Without those, a birthday celebration means nothing. And yet, here they are . . . the empty, meaningless wishes . . . the ritual taking over, pushing the substance aside, making a mockery out of all well-wishing. I sound like an ass, but some truths are impossible to sweep under the rug.]
Maybe all these people are celebrating the fact that I’m still around — my friends and acquaintances, all of them happy to know I’m still alive, genuinely and truly pleased to have me around. It’s possible. They may like me enough to have a ball and dance at my still being here, among them, regardless of my age.
Or maybe they’re happy because my presence makes them feel secure, healthy, reinforcing their confidence in themselves.
See, my life and survival is theirs, too. Your success is my success, my cause for celebration. Basking in reflected glory. Live and let hope. Rely on others to know who and what we are, how long we will live. We used to have a short life expectancy once upon a time, our species, living to be thirty, tops, but we’ve gradually beaten the odds, pushing the envelope into the high double-digits, sometimes even beyond that, into the centenary figures.
Yes, people used to pass away like livestock in poorly-kept pens, malnourished and diseased, and we, lucky and privileged as we are, we’re way past that, and that’s a good thing.
A cause for celebration.
Even so, nothing can be taken for granted. In spite of our success, we are still insecure about our health and longevity. Thirty-five years to be alive is a huge accomplishment in itself, or so people feel, especially when remembering how short and cheap life used to be — and still is in some places.
Live and let hope then. Celebrate every conquered year, be it yours or someone else’s. Surviving vicariously is a thing, a great boost to our immune systems that reinforces survival proper. Live and let hope and let grow old together, cheering each other’s years at our birthday parties, a moveable feast down the long road to senility, desperate not to start worrying about our pending demise.
I’m serious. Cynicism and black humor aside — sorry, couldn’t help it — this is reality. We worry about ourselves a great deal when other people perish. We may not show it, or speak about it openly, but when someone we knows passes away we can’t help thinking about ourselves, wondering, What if . . .
We get anxious.
We worry, and rightly so. We’re extremely social beings, one person’s demise somehow spilling over, affecting us, demoralizing everyone.
Put bluntly, when a friend or acquaintance croaks, his or her death injures our confidence. We feel vulnerable and exposed, open to harm in ways heretofore unfathomable.
So we celebrate every four seasons, every friend who lives on with us, we point at him or her and make a big deal out of one more year and birthday. Hip hip . . . Our endurance is everyone’s endurance, and theirs is ours, a sign that we may yet live on. Our time is not yet nigh. Looks like we have a chance to make it to a good age, grow old and happy and content, watching the world pass by knowing how lucky we are, unlike our ancestors who perished in droves before reaching middle age. We remind ourselves and each other that we’re going to live longer than our predecessors, long enough for us not to worry about the end, not just yet. Strength in numbers, man. Strength in massively improved age expectancy.
This is one of the ways in which our lives have improved. People used to live in caves and holes. They moved around on all fours and climbed trees for a living.
We moved past that impediment, too, over the millennia.
We overcame that huge obstacle, but oftentimes it feels like we didn’t.
Perhaps it’s time we showed something for our ostensible progress, something more profound than the gadgets with which we play and the intricacy of our customs. We need true measures of our development, something to match our processing transformation, our erudite change, starting with our deep core and all that comes with it, namely the way we celebrate life.
Watch this space for Part 6