The Laughing Decades
June 4th, 2015. Just another revolution for planet earth. But a major spin for one of its earthlings. I turn 50. There you go. I said it. Everyone tells me it’s merely a ‘number’. That it’s all in the mind. That I don’t look that old. That I should look back with gratitude. I can’t hear them. My thoughts are elsewhere. So many first day flashes—college, job, love, marriage, business, fatherhood. And so many farewells—places, friends, teachers, colleagues, and above all—Dad. A half-century of compelling reminiscences. Yet my thoughts keep tripping back to a frivolous memory….
1990 Winter in Chicago. Rick Kleckner in front of me. He is EVP of AFI, my first employer. A charismatic personality. I am in awe. I aspire to be him. I want to gauge the wait period. ‘How old are you?’ I query. ‘52’, is his reply. ‘Oh my god, that’s OLD!’ I exclaim. Rick laughs. Then looks straight into my eyes and says ‘Mr. Nathani, in the blink of an eye, your life will fly past. You will be standing at your ‘fifty’ crossroad and remembering today’s conversation’. I laugh back. I brush aside the episode and forget all about it.
Or so I thought. Earlier this year, that wintery Chicago memory came back to me, the bygone words resonating in my head. How ominously right Rick was. When you are 25, the number 50 appears too far in the continuum to contemplate. Then something strange happens. You double up faster than you had imagined. I didn’t even get time to prepare. The abrupt arrival has left me perturbed. I am unable to place a finger on my sentiments. Except that the number carries some kind of disturbing ring. It’s a bump that I need to sort out. No different than how one tackles business obstacles. Be objective. Analyze the issue. Address the matter. Then move on.
Let’s start at the roots. Where I am coming from. Nothing wrong there. Life has been kind. There is not much I would like to change. The years were action and laughter packed. Positive tidings governed personal and business relationships. Maybe that explains the flying time? The realization is encouraging. What is better: Being so busy that time flies by or so idle that time drags laboriously? Clearly, I can’t blame my uneasiness on the past. Unless…
…it’s the highs of the past that are making the future seem bleak. What is there to look forward to? What can happen that hasn’t happened before? All the major events are over. Childhood. Education. Romance. Job. Marriage. Babies. Money. Success. I sat in the front row. Now the show feels like a rerun. Of course, watching my children settle, marry, have grandchildren etc. would be fun. But it’s their moment. I will be a spectator. Like Tendulkar watching field action from the stands. Surely, it’s the lackluster future that is hassling me. But the future doesn’t even exist yet. Therefore…
…is the issue actually about my running away from reality? Where is my present? It’s caught between a past vs future tug-of-war. A poor victim. For there is nothing wrong with my ‘today’. Given a choice, would I swap my aging status with a college youth? It may help. But only temporarily. For my new-youth is also going to fly by quickly and I will be back in the spectator stand. Only this time, if my life does not roll out as generously, my 50th predicament could be worse!
Now our analysis is getting somewhere. Undoubtedly, ‘running away’ from the present is not a solution. Therefore, the logical choice by method of elimination is to ‘stay’ in the current moment. Fortunately, this is one of those things that is easier done than said. In fact the problem is so trivial that I don’t have to do anything. All that is required is to keep the mind occupied like it always has been. And the short human memory will sort out the rest. Soon the 50th milestone will fade away into oblivion. No different than the chilling Chicago memory. I will have moved on.
And that, my friends, is an illustration of how we sweep problems under the carpet. All the analytics for naught. The data points dumped. A perceptive decision taken. How do I know that the decision is wrong? Easy. Where is the sustainability of the solution? Can I keep my mind constructively occupied forever? When I retire, the emptiness is going to haunt me. When my health starts failing, my logical mind will go junking. If/when I lose a loved one, the vacuum will be unfillable. Perhaps the biggest challenge will be the end of my road itself. If I am happy, the thought of bidding adieus will torment me. And if I am raving to move on, it would imply I am tired of life. Either way, the eventual moment is destined to be traumatic. So how do I tackle this trauma?
Stay scientific. Kick out emotions. Back to basics. Where is my flow of thoughts leading me? What is that one thing bothering me about aging? The growing realization of the eventuality of life. Eventuality signifies singularity. If I can make peace with this singularity, the problem is addressed. The spiritual scriptures talk about the great ‘circle of life’. But it feels theoretical. In practice, life feels like a line with a distinct start and an end point. The start point is considered the gift of God. The end point doesn’t get the same respect. Why? Because the ‘end’ is an inheritance of the ‘start’. We are conditioned to believe ‘we die because we are born’. Our ego doesn’t allow us to comprehend ‘we are born because we die’. If humans were designed to live forever, our ancestors would have started practicing birth control centuries ago. In which case, you and I wouldn’t be having this conversation today!
Our very existence is the evidence of the ‘circle of life’, one with no start or end. I believe the more we can feel it, the lesser is the distinction between journey and destination. And once the distinction starts diminishing, we no longer view our final destination as singularity. Also referred to as Nirvana, from what I understand, a state where you are equally happy to stay, equally happy to go. The moment of transition becomes irrelevant. Is this abstract jargon? I don’t know. But what I do know is that if you strongly believe in something long enough, that belief becomes a reality for you. So will a scientific pursuit of Nirvana be my salvation? I don’t know again. But I will let you know the progress in my 2025 blog sequel. Until then, just hang around. In a blink of an eye, we will be there! Take it from one speaking from personal experience