Right Actor, Wrong Part

Paul Fahrenheidt

Paul Fahrenheidt

Many a man thought himself wise, but what he wanted he did not know.

I

When a man reaches old age, he’s presented with a set of problems he has never before had to endure. How can he perform great feats when his body fails him? How can he speak his mind when his breath fails his voice and his thoughts are cloaked in a dimming spirit? His very grip on his physical form is slipping, dissolving like a fallen tree on the forest floor, soon to be unrecognizable from the dirt beneath it. Ashes to ashes. Dust to dust. Womb to womb.

Yet the man must live through those years which he finds himself dissipating. And some dissipate faster than others. Like the other great trials of war, famine, and pestilence, the trial of looming death must be coped with through a self-inflicted form of madness. The type of madness depends on the man undergoing the trial, though it often takes the forms of “Resignation” or “Delusion.”

When a man is resigned to his fate, it can take the shape of fatalism, gallows humor, good cheer and farsightedness, or any other means which preclude an acceptance of reality. The man stares death in the face and welcomes his eventual embrace, either through celebrating or bemoaning it. Perhaps the differentiation between celebrating or bemoaning one’s death is how many regrets one has.

Yet a man can deny reality, just as much as he can accept it. “The mind is its own place.” It can make an elder out of a youth or a youth out of an elder. The latter is often the form that this reality-denying elder takes, a delusion brought about by an odd kind of dementia in which the man remembers flashes of the triumphs and vigor of his youth at the expense of forgetting his fall from it. Perhaps he believes that the will can triumph over the body, that if he believes in being young enough, he will be. Like the episode of The Twilight Zone where the gang of elders believes that by playing children’s games, they will become children again.

This does not stave off the end, of course. Nor does it really delay it. Perhaps it’s a heralding of the immaturity one feels at both extremes of their lifespan. A grasping at curtains in a dark room, hoping that if you can just get your hands on it you’ll be a teenager again. Here is where the man makes a fool of himself, tolerated by the pity and inability to confront awkwardness within the youth he’ll seek to surround himself with.

The fault is with denying. Not with remembering.

II

Few would argue that the world is an old one. Even the young amongst us feel ten years older than they ought to. A sort of cringing self-awareness stalks the minds of many, especially those with the pattern-recognition to enter the spheres we all share. Yet some have decided that the answer to this is a cringing lack of self-awareness, eschewing conscious awareness of oneself in favor of some sort of return to childlike un-consciousness. This makes itself manifest in the politics and spirit of those we share these spaces with.

These vitalists as they call themselves, life-affirming being the first of their self-given adjectives, they play at a worship of the young as if youth is in their grasp. They have their precedents, of course, in the Italian Futurists, in Gabrielle D’Annunzio, in the Decadents, in Nietzsche himself, in Wagner and in the Early Romantics, all the way back to the shock and terror of the world after Napoleon’s visage graced and cursed the European continent with the ushing in of its old age. That was scarce more than two centuries ago, the blink of an eye.

Yet one’s life goes by in the blink of one’s eye. And Europe, the West, finds itself two-hundred years past the greatest living drama it ever (and likely will ever) experience. It’s come off of a cocaine binge, a high that began in 1492 and has only accelerated since. And endless expansion Plus Ultra, with the only cry universally bellowed being, “More! More! MORE!” 

The ambition of a continent has overtaken its enjoyment of its own fruits, and now that there are fewer and fewer fruits to enjoy, the first few sons aware of their own eldership seek to solve their inner abyss with more ambition, more goals, more hopes, more dreams. They know themselves to be old, and they deny such. They delude themselves. They decry the nursing home pensioners above them as sapping the life from the young, yet the young have no life to sap for they were born older than the old supposedly sapping them.

Perhaps if we turn the clock backwards or forwards, write a poem exalting that impetuous hero who goes forth selfishly, or fantasize about a cleansing flood that will wash away the geriatrics among us, we’ll taste the sweetness of youth again. But we’re all geriatrics. We’re all old. And each day we take a step closer to a quickly-coming death we spend no time preparing for.

“I do not fear death.” They say, and they believe it. How could you fear something you don’t know the consequences of? How could you fear the mess made by your passing, when you aren’t the one who has to clean it up?

III

One cannot, “Destroy Everything that Exists” when everything that exists has been destroyed. To do so would be a corpse dance. Like a barbarian tribe storming a crumbling Roman city whose citizens were wiped out by the Justinian Plague. The collapse already happened. We’ll just find out when it did about two-hundred years from now.

Exalting the Greeks and their “Sophisticated Superficiality” may have been all well and good for a younger time, but to revive such a sentiment among a culture of geriatrics is the epitome of folly. We are not the Greeks. We cannot be the Greeks. They were young. We are not.

When a man finds himself in the latter half of his life, when his “Everlasting summer is fading fast,” he “Grabs a piece of something he thinks is gonna last.” Most times this is settling down, usually at or near where he grew up. The average man dies around five miles away from where he was born. Why is this?

When the energy and vigor of youth fall away, when realized and unrealized ambitions alike lead to a reconsideration of why you left home in the first place, the first thought is to return. Most do. Upon doing such, they find a happiness and contentment that they could never find in the restlessness of realizing ambitions. They root themselves where their fathers did. They become part of a continuity, of a tradition again.

There is something to be said for youth to go out and expend their restless energy on tasks doomed to fail, the clarion call is heard by all hearts. But when you think of the union and continuity of shared blood, standing on the same soil they stood on, no greater meaning can be found. Even if you don’t speak the same tongue your fathers did, or worship the same God they did, or sing the same songs, or read the same books, by returning to where they raised you, you fill the place they leave when they pass. That exists. What would be gained to destroy it?