Sunday, July 2, 2017

Failing Hands

In the past month or so, I've fallen three times.  For no good reason.  That's not to say there's ever a good reason for falling, although I suppose that if it's in the course of ducking a projectile of some kind, that would be one.

The falls weren't debilitating, though the last two may be attributed to a debilitation in the thigh or knee resulting from the first.  They nonetheless serve to remind me of age and aging and, most uncomfortably, of my age and the all-too undeniable fact that I'm aging.

The "failing hands" referred to in the title to this post are those of the dead, said (somewhat unreasonably) by the poet who wrote In Flanders Field to throw the torch, meant to represent their quarrel with the foe, to those others who will replace them in the fight.  I venture to say that the dead have no hands, and that if they can be said to have them they are not failing but have failed entirely.  "Failing" is nevertheless something age can cause hands, and other parts of the body, to do, and "hands" may mean the hands of a clock as well as those of a man, and a clock measures time as it passes and as time passes we age. 

Aging is a curious thing.  It's association with time in the form of clocks is interesting and suggestive.  Clocks run down, and so do we.  Time passes, and we, eventually, pass away.  Why do we age, with time?  Why does age bring with it the successive decrease of strength and vitality and the increase in weakness and vulnerability?  Time's arrow wounds us and that wound is ultimately fatal.

It's disturbing and has disturbed many throughout--yes, I'm afraid--time.  Some it disturbs mightily.  Hemingway, it seems, despaired of life in part because he was unable to enjoy what he felt was good in it.  In his case that apparently included the ritualistic killing of bulls and causing the deaths of various fish and animals.  Be that as it may, though, he could no longer take his part in what was good as he had in the past and this exacerbated his depression and alcoholism and the possible bipolar disorder which ran in his family.

Others have even rejoiced in it, though.  At least, they've purported to do so.  Those have typically been convinced that life is bad in some sense, or a mere sojourn; a temporary and painful journey required for entry into a sublime state beyond the body.  Yeats compared an old man to a tattered coat on a stick, claiming by implication that is all an old man is, unless "soul claps it hands and sings and louder sings, for every tatter in its mortal dress."  I quote that from memory and may be wrong, but it's a wonderful line in a wonderful poem, and seems apt for those who think of life as, ultimately, a burden.

According to Epictetus, we are little souls carrying around corpses.  Another striking phrase.  Stoics as well as some Christians, and others, have thought that our lives as mortals are insignificant in the end.  This makes sense as the Stoics thought that what was divine in us is not our bodies, but the soul which partakes in the divine and is a part of it.  However, the Stoics could not hate the body or our lives as I think Christian zealots did and still do.  The divine was a part of the universe to them, a part of all that lives in the universe as well.  When the body dies and dissolves, that which is divine in us remains as part of the living universe.

What is simply is.  We age, and as Epictetus also said we should do at all times, we continue to do the best that we can with what is in our power and take the rest of what time and age bring as it happens.

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