Norwegian Fells © T. F. Lokken.

Panic Now

Let’s be a little pessimistic for a second.

Are you ‘young’ like me? When describing how old you are, do you leave the specifics in favour of ‘twenties’ or ‘thirties’? Do you have a career plan? ‘Enough’ of a plan? No plan at all? Whatever the case, allow me to lay prophecy for what remains of your life.

First of all; it is going to seem laughably, disturbingly short. In the blinding flash that ensues from the moment you first open your eyes until you close them for the last time, you will have experienced practically nil of what the universe has to offer. You will have met only a fraction of the people whom you could have loved, befriended or hated. More than likely, you won’t have done the work that could have truly fulfilled you, or rested — if each day you finally could — as fitfully or restoratively as is possible. The experience, as a whole, will be chaotic, contradictory and, if you also happen to be a realist, fundamentally meaningless. It will have been exciting and distressing in—at best—equal measure.

Let us now jump forward and imagine your life as it might appear in middle age. Some or all of the following things might start to occur:

Parents — as vigorously alive as they seemed last month — rattle out their last breaths. Perhaps all at once. Perhaps with a striking, conspiratorial regularity that’s giving you just too little time to absorb one loss before the next comes.

Your spouse starts to looks less and less like a 24-year-old lifeguard every year, if indeed he did in the first place. So do you, as it happens, so where does that leave you?

Your kids start trying on adult traits, starting with the worst first. Maybe you regret having kids. Maybe you regret not having kids. If you have kids, though, you live somewhere sensible and everybody is just like you, but not in a homely and reassuring way; it’s actually rather oppressive and you’re desperate to escape. Desperate to drive something throatier than a Prius.

To make matters worse, your work life — stable as it might be — is starting to stale. The diligence of your boss’ pedantry continues to astound. You look across at him in meetings and imagine — in frankly troubling detail — resolutely choking him to death

Most present of all you woes, however, is the suffocating reality of death’s inexorable approach. It torments you day after day and mounts, year on year, until suddenly everything must be changed. Nothing, it seems, can remain as it is.

One of life’s most fundamental contradictions is that, although it will pass in an instant, sometimes it will surely feel unbearably drawn-out. Days will pass like weeks while months pass like days, one after the other until we have had our lot.

We can’t know how to avoid all the potentially dire timelines that might be in store, but we can be aware. We can perform a ‘pre-mortem’ of our ruined future selves and make some course adjustments. Though we can’t plan for all eventualities, one thing is certain: wherever we are on the voyage, if we’re not at least regularly enthused by the general state of our affairs we will die — as many before us — unfulfilled, the ships of ‘us’ scattered across the rocks of eternity.

Unless, that is, we catch a vice grip at the helm.