Thursday, July 07, 2005

An Age Apart

Oh dear. My last post and the comments it drew have prodded my mind in so many directions that I don’t know which to choose. So I’ll ramble my way about over the course of a few separate posts. I can't presume to speak with authority or from a very informed position. Take these as observations which may (or may not) have pertinence to the current discussion.

In modern (meaning contemporary), affluent (American?) culture, we seem to have cut ourselves off from the past. Science and technology give us false confidence, so we ignore the lessons of history and act rashly, like a teen-aged boy who thinks his parents know jack-shit and then wraps his car around a tree.

Since the very beginning of mankind, we have told stories. We told them to our children and to each other and to our children’s children. We told histories and mythologies and poems and songs- and these instructed the youth in virtue and comforted the aged with hope, while inspiring those in between to a life worthy of such a heritage.

The stories that we tell today are stories of the present moment. We tell our own stories (which often amount to "poor me, my life sucks" - yes, I am guilty) instead of those of our ancestors. We discard ethnic customs or practices because they are out-dated (which somehow makes them irrelevant). Mythology is “archaic” (and that somehow means, “useless”).

Our arrogance is so profound that we even assert the right to extrapolate moral values from our own narrow experience of the world. We don’t encourage our children to love justice, we teach them to love comfort. We tell them not to play-fight. We censor violence in legends and fairy tales, creating versions mysteriously lacking courage and valor, as well.

We fear death inordinately, perhaps because of our inability to see time as circular, like the seasons. Again from Ecclesiastes:

1 There is a time for everything,
and a season for every activity under heaven:

2 a time to be born and a time to die,
a time to plant and a time to uproot,

3 a time to kill and a time to heal,
a time to tear down and a time to build,

4 a time to weep and a time to laugh,
a time to mourn and a time to dance,

5 a time to scatter stones and a time to gather them,
a time to embrace and a time to refrain,

6 a time to search and a time to give up,
a time to keep and a time to throw away,

7 a time to tear and a time to mend,
a time to be silent and a time to speak,

8 a time to love and a time to hate,
a time for war and a time for peace.

Also, we are afraid of getting old.

In the past, as a general rule, old men and women were honored and considered wise. Today, we glorify youth and beauty and productivity and most other fleeting things. Our aged population becomes an inconvenience, a problem to be dealt with and tucked away so we who have our youth can get on with "going somewhere", though none of us knows where exactly that is.

And as we, who were once young, begin to age, we panic. We are without wisdom to still our frenetic minds and have no stories to tell ourselves for comfort and inspiration, so we grasp in vain at our elusive youth. Nip and tuck, here; a little filler there; a bigger boat, house, car; a younger lover. Lie about your age; color your hair; go on a shopping spree: anything to stay young as long as you can- because when you get old, the world doesn't have room for you. And why should it? We spent our lives making ourselves into a sad and shallow mass of decaying flesh; irrelevant, taking up space, using up resources.

Maybe these things contribute to my sense of disconnectedness or lack of purpose. The values upheld and forced down our throats are so empty. There is nothing beneath them. We've severed the iceberg at water-level and we, who are only the tip of a monstrous glacial mass, are floating away in indifferent waters.

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