Tuesday 26 July 2011

Awed by the sheer randomness of existence

It seems that the most dangerous age for rock stars is 27. While for baby boomers like me, born in 1954, 57 is starting to look less like an English summer pasture, filled with gorgeous wildflowers, and more like a tropical swamp infested with mosquitoes and crocodiles, and surrounded by heavily armed fanatics.

In the last few weeks I have learned of the deaths of three of my school contemporaries, all from natural causes rather than as the result of some freak accident. They were not friends of mine, but with my elephantine memory I naturally remember them well. And in my mind they are still smiling miniatures in blazers and short trousers, full of life and promise.

I really must learn how to scan those black and white form photographs from the 1960s ...

None of them, curiously, was the sort of overweight and physically inferior specimen that one might have marked down for an early exit. In my class, that was undoubtedly me. The fat kid squatting glumly on the floor of the gymnasium as his schoolfellows swarmed nimbly to the top of the ropes. The one who always landed on the near end of the vaulting horse with a groin-shattering crunch, and who somehow endured eight years of swimming classes without ever learning to swim a stroke.

No, these were normally proportioned, fit and healthy lads who should have been actuarially good for whatever average life expectancy is these days (and remember that it will have increased by three hours in the day that has passed between my writing these words and your reading them).

Yet they are gone and I am somehow still here. Which is handy given that, after an apparently rather precocious start, I somehow lapsed into a state of lazily suspended animation for about four decades, and have only recently emerged from my chrysalis as one of the world’s ultimate late developers.

Here I am slowly and rather reluctantly learning the rudiments of parenting at an age when most people are indulging their grandchildren (or, in less privileged postcodes, great grandchildren). And being told by my headshaking financial adviser what a great pity it is that I did not have the foresight to take out a whacking great life insurance policy before I was known to have a heart condition, albeit at a time of my life when I had no dependants and could see no earthly use for such provision.

The dreadful news of this last weekend powerfully underlines the complete randomness of existence and the utter folly of attempting to discern patterns or draw conclusions from it. Alerted by Twitter to the unfolding catastrophe in Norway, I turned on the BBC news channel where an American “expert” banged on at inordinate length about how the attacks bore all the classic hallmarks of being planned and perpetrated by jihadists.

Even when it was pointed out to him that all the reports spoke of a blond-haired, blue-eyed gunman, his confidence did not skip a beat. Surely his interviewer was aware of the increasing sophistication of these organisations in recruiting individuals who were less likely to arouse suspicion?

The idea that this might be the dastardly work of some home-grown loon simply never occurred to him, any more than I anticipated my late fatherhood or the premature departure of the boys I grew up with.

It is very hard to draw any useful conclusions from all this, other than that the one thing in this life on which we can bet with confidence is its complete unpredictability. But I shall make these admittedly unoriginal resolutions: to enjoy life while I can, and try living every day on the assumption that it will be my last. With any luck it won’t be, but it might make me behave more kindly to the people I meet along the way, and that can never be a bad thing for any of us.

Originally published in The Journal, Newcastle upon Tyne.


CC said...

Beautifully said.

Exiled Reiver said...

the oracular curmudgeon speaks great truth