“Ever you desire to appear lordly and gracious as a king of old.” – Denethor to his son Faramir
(great line for men who like to look nice)
There is something fascinating about aging, about the long, slow decay of your flesh. The less rejuvenated, the more interesting we become. Gray hair, saggy skin, its marvelous! How wonderful it is to be living matter, to be aware of your guaranteed end of days. We are so lucky to be able to be sentient – we are able to direct our actions and choose how to live our gifted years. Creating yourself, being whatever it is in your power to be.
When we are young and flush, we exude overconfidence; we act as though time is an endless river we sail upon. As we age (some of us) realize that this time is limited and we try to get off the boat. For me I always have the itch to create, not always because I am driven to create, but because I dread the ignominiousness of being lost in time, capsized.
Billions of humans have been born on our world, billions have died. Some while still small babies, some in disease, war, famine, and some in the comfort of obese western Middle Class. A very tiny few are rich beyond measure and they leave their largess to the next generation – the old robber barons have left genetic mites who have achieved nothing but acquiring a slice of the pie.
Some of us, a truly insignificant minority, have left great works behind them. Things that leave civilization speaking their names long after their constituting atoms have blown away in the winds of time. I am drawn to this sonnet by Shelley regarding Ozymandias:
I met a traveler from an antique land
Who said: “Two vast and trunkless legs of stone
Stand in the desert . . . Near them, on the sand,
Half sunk, a shattered visage lies, whose frown,
And wrinkled lip, and sneer of cold command,
Tell that its sculptor well those passions read
Which yet survive, stamped on these lifeless things,
The hand that mocked them, and the heart that fed:
And on the pedestal these words appear:
‘My name is Ozymandias, king of kings:
Look on my works, ye Mighty, and despair!’
Nothing beside remains. Round the decay
Of that colossal wreck, boundless and bare
The lone and level sands stretch far away.”
The reader of course is left to imagine how empty Ozymandias’s achievements were, for he is obviously long since deceased and his majestic achievements buried under the sand. But reread it and see that he is well remembered -his name and the echoes of his civilization remain. He tantalizes and forces men to wax poetic about his loss. That is eternal life!
I do not believe that there is a heaven, or that we have immortal souls. But I do believe that by creating, by contributing something of value back to the civilization from which you have sprung; that allows for true immortality.
While age claims us (despite the heroic efforts of science to reverse the process) we are cogent enough during its span to fight the emptiness of death and light torches of remembrance. Names of the dead are repeated by those living – Twain, Dickens, Poe, Carroll; schoolchildren rediscover them every year. They will never truly die because of their gifts.
So, I can look in the mirror at my saggy skin, at my graying hair, my loose teeth, and be proud that I am alive. I can create new and hopefully beautiful things to give to my fellow citizens. I can be a good steward of the world I live on, I can strive to ensure that future generations have the opportunity to also live and give back themselves, either here on Earth or on other worlds where we may eventually move away too. That is a gift, a lordly and gracious gift.