Boleh Tahan ~ HOW OLD ARE YOU?

WHAT’S YOUR EDGE?”, said the fierce personnel manager at the supermarket where I’d gone in search of a Saturday job while I was in high school. “Edge?” I repeated, “What do you mean?” “Edge!” he roared, in his strong regional accent; “How old are you?!” “Oh, sixteen”, I hastily offered, realizing that he had meant ‘age’. “You’re a bright spark, aren’t you?!” he said sarcastically. Thus began my relationship with this tyrant, and it didn’t improve over the year I spent there, working all day for just £1:00. Thanks, Jacko; I never imagined you would come into my life again, or that I’d be grateful to you, but there you are!

It is a common question: “How old are you?” We usually think nothing about it, and answer with our bodily age, as if we were the body only, and nothing else. But are we? The body is a lump of meat without the mind, consciousness or vivifying principle to make it function; we are more psychic than physical, as it is through the mind that we perceive things; it is through the mind that we live.

But if we are more mind than body, how old is the mind? We cannot really say how old we are unless and until we know who we are. And do we know who we are? Don’t be hasty and say, “Of course I know”, because if you think about it for a moment or two, you will realize that you don’t. Funny, isn’t it? You have lived so many years but still don’t know who you are. And if you don’t know who you are, how can you know who anyone else is? You are much more than a name—a name which, by the way, was stuck on you by others. Are you ready to begin your journey of discovery? This is what it will be if you respond to this question instead of merely shrugging it off and saying, “Who cares?”—a journey that goes on and on, with no perceivable end. But the joy of discovery as you go will offset any concern about never reaching the end; what you discover when you discover it, is an end in itself. Enjoy the trip!

Someone—Paul Lowney—has written: “No-one owns his own life. Everyone—no matter how insignificant—has an effect on someone else, just as a stone sends out ripples when cast into water. A person whose life doesn’t touch another’s is a person without a shadow”. A person without a shadow, doesn’t exist, of course; every one of us touches others.

But this is just the beginning. Once we discover this, things really start to open up and become exciting. Further on, we might find—as someone else; I forget who—said: “No-one can know everything about anything”. Why is this? Because one thing always leads to another, and when we investigate anything, we find so much involved in it, and so much involved in that, and so much involved in that, to infinity; there’s no end. It is like this quotation from a contemporary dance master, Martha Graham—whoever she is; I must confess I don’t know, but it doesn’t matter; what she said makes sense:

“It takes about ten years to produce a dancer. That’s not intermittent training; that’s daily training. You go step by step. In ten years, if you are going to be a dancer at all, you will have mastered the instrument. You will know the wonders of the human body, and there is nothing more wonderful. Next time you look into the mirror, notice the way the ears rest next to the head; look at the way the hairline grows; think of the little bones in your wrists; think of the magic of that foot, comparatively small, upon which your whole weight rests. It’s a miracle. And the dance is the celebration of that miracle.”

Because we are burdened with the need to earn a living, our area of interest is narrowed down considerably; we feel jostled and hemmed in by the cares and worries that spring up like weeds. After a while, our energies having been expended in trying to just keep afloat, we forget there are other things to life than earning a living, supporting a family, and enjoying ourselves a little, and lapse into a state of dull acceptance, taking everything for granted. When this happens, life is virtually over, or—to put it another way—hasn’t yet begun.

In freeing us from drudgery and insecurity, the welfare-state has fostered mediocrity and drug-like dependence in us; we’ve become addicted to a life of pleasure and ease, and forgotten how to strive and accomplish for ourselves, to face the difficulties that life throws at us as challenges, and overcome them. Having had things so good for so long, we’ve become bored and restless; nothing holds our attention for long.

If we view life as boring, as something to be endured, tolerated, put up with, and got over with as soon as possible, then we will have little interest or energy, of course. But if we see it as a thing of possibility, of unfathomed potential—to learn more of which brings joy—then our energy-level will increase and may make us feel like shouting from the roof-tops.

“Shouting from the roof-tops!?” you may say. “Are you mad? What is there to shout about?” You have said it. By not saying it, you have said it! Your ignorance has revealed and strengthened it! It’s what you don’t know that is worth shouting from the roof-tops. And what is it that your response has demonstrated you don’t know? Obviously, that you are alive—alive as a person—with incredible, untapped riches and resources. If you knew this, you would not say “Are you mad?” The mad one is not he who shouts from the rooftops about human potential, but he who thinks there’s nothing to shout about!

A Norwegian philosopher, Sören Kierkegaard, wrote: “If I were to wish for anything, I would not wish for wealth or power but for the passionate sense of the potential, for the eye which, ever young and ardent, sees the possible. Pleasure disappoints, possibility never. And what wine is so sparkling, what so fragrant, what so intoxicating, as possibility?”

We need to be bold and daring, to be able to say “I don’t know”, and recognize that we are far from fulfilling ourselves. Don’t be satisfied with mediocrity! Don’t give up! There’s so much waiting for you!

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