LOITERING

If time is a river, then we stand braced against the current so speak, keeping our feet in order not to be swept away. This is the river into which Heraclitus says we never set foot twice (if he actually said this).

At some point several years ago I gave in; instead of fighting it I let it carry me away. So now I float down this same metaphorical time-river. Picture me reclining in an inner tube, the Globe and Mail on my lap, and waving my feet to the folks ashore.

It is not a comfortable float. Time may stop but not age. Age chips away at you, the joints begin audibly to creak, over time the morning hard-on segues, alas, to the morning fart. Living inside a machine that is inexorably wearing out requires, at the very least, a robust sense of the absurd.

The worst of it is, with the exception of a correspondent in Russia, the best of my old friends are all gone under, mostly from cancer. What am I doing, loitering here?

All the same, this is one of the two best periods of my life. The first was my childhood of course, when I roamed the farmland in all weathers. I don’t say the happiest: that would be the years when our children were growing up. But best. I am seventy-seven now. 77. It’s a good number: the sibilant alliteration of seventy-seven fills the mouth. Try it. You can’t rush the tempo, you have to let each of the five syllables trickle out in its own good time. I do not look forward to next year when I shall be a mere 78. I think perhaps I will lie about my age.

Some years ago I likened getting old to navigating a ship that was sinking under my feet. I wondered at the time how I would feel when the water was up to my knees. Today it may be up to my neck for all I know. It was a good metaphor and I liked it, but it no longer seems to mean anything. There are days now when it seems to me that I can rub the texture of existence itself so to speak, between my finger and my thumb.

Death. My death. It cannot be so very far off, and I must say it seizes me with a kind of awe as I approach that blank . . . what would we call it—wall? Not wall; one collides with a wall—rather a blank nothing, that inconceivable un-being. It’s easy to imagine the world without me. But to try to imagine me without the world of course brings imagination to a stop. A dead stop. Given the implacable will to exist that inflates all living things, one would expect to be terrified. I seem strangely indifferent. William Barrett (Irrational Man) says, “Any man who is not afraid to die has never lived.” Perhaps. Perhaps I delude myself.

We shall see.