Sophocles wrote “No man loves life like he that’s growing old”, and yet many of us – me included – curse our declining powers. Those of us with no delusions of an afterlife, a second bite of the pie as it were, rue that we are slowing down, filling out, and aching, as Leonard Cohen put it, in the places were we used to play.
All around us, there are reminders of the relentless march of time. Just the other day, I was sitting on a train when the photo on the front page of a newspaper caught my eye. It took me a while to realize that the world-weary, wizen old man on the cover of whatever tabloid it was Paul McCartney, once the most instantly recognizable face in the world.
I turn 40 today. I’m surprised to be here; not because I’ve ever had any dangerous flirtations with drug abuse, extreme sport or organised crime, no not me, I’ve always been ‘sensible’… My surprise is that I got here so quickly. The year 2000, and before that 1984, where science-fiction milestones, but are now nostalgia, as I realise that I’ve probably had more years now than are left to me.
But far from depressing – okay, I confess, it was for a minute or two – the idea that we only have one shot at life is a liberation. It means that we owe it to ourselves to pack in as much as we can in the time we have. The more I think about it, the more convinced I am that belief in an afterlife is a far more depressing state than accepting that death comes equally to us as it does to a bug on the windscreen. It is depressing because people do such terrible things to themselves and to others because they believe this life must be sacrificed to gain points in a hereafter.
Whether it is denying oneself the joy of love and companionship because you believe some God frowns on sexuality, or blowing yourself up in a crowded marketplace because your faith promises a heavenly reward, the belief that this life – this only life – is not important, not precious, not all there is, is the greatest humanitarian tragedy imaginable. Life deferred is life lost.
Well, I must sign off. There are places to go, things to do, people to meet, and a finite amount of time to do it in. If there were sin, mine would have been that I have taken time for granted. I have passed on opportunities; I have let friendships slip away. I’ve stayed in when I should have gone out to play.
But no more, from today I shall let go of these regrets. There is more life to snatch for the willing, for the bold. Yes indeed, no man loves life like he that’s growing old.
Transcript of “A (Humanist) Thought For The Day” published by the Humanist Society of Scotland, 2008. Audio archived here.