I’ve done a stack of interesting things in 42 years and by many standards, I’ve done pretty well and been pretty lucky. What’s surprised me recently however is the realisation of how few questions I can answer about my reasons for doing almost any of them.
I don’t mean motivations for the big stuff; I get why I moved to Dubai in 1996, Johannesburg in 2001 and London in 2010, and why I got both married and divorced. The big stuff took some thinking about, so I’m pretty clear about the hows and the whys.
Furthermore, I’m not suggesting that I feel the need to account for every single step I take.
But I do realise that even in cutting myself lots of slack, my life nevertheless seems to have been constructed of a hundred thousand decisions that cannot be labelled as badly thought-through because I didn’t actually think about many of them at all.
Now this realisation hasn’t come about through any particular craving for increased control. I do not wish for that. In fact, I don’t think I could internalise the philosophy of laissez faire any more fully than I currently do.
What concerns me rather is that I don’t think until very recently I had a clear sense of the appropriate value of things. And to be absolutely crystal clear, I mean the derisory value of most of the physical possessions I have or the adopted beliefs I hold for which I haven’t fully explored the reasons. We all have some of those, I bet.
As a die-hard existentialist whose standpoint has been irreversibly strengthened by recent events however, I think I suddenly get what’s been going on.
Among the arrows in my quiver of philosophical fallback positions for when I need one are a load of underlined quotes in books by a motley crew of writers which for a guy like me, naturally includes the works of Jean Paul Sartre. As he put it: “we need to experience death consciousness so as to wake up ourselves as to what is really important; the authentic in our lives which is life experience, not knowledge.”
Experience, not knowledge. I’m harping on about that a lot lately, but there’s a reason for it. I realise now that what I have always known counts for nothing compared to what I have experienced.
You may think that realisation has come along late for someone of my age, but truthfully I don’t know what else I could have done to achieve it. The death of a loved one gives you a very substantially deeper feeling of grief than any description you can read about it, but you know, someone has to die before you get to experience that.
Now that I’ve felt it though, it’s opened up a way of interpreting things which is forcing an entirely involuntary resetting and readjustment of the value of every single thing in my life. Some up, some down. I don’t know how to feel about that yet, but I guess I’m going to find out very soon now …