2016 is fading away. In a week, the new year will be upon us. It is an appropriate time to take stock of my life: Do I need to narrate what I have achieved so far, or what I missed out in the sixty-two years of my life? Certainly not: this is not the time, either to take undue pride in achievements or to feel regret for mistakes made.
But it is a good time to list out the life lessons I have learnt in my journey under the skies overhead. This is a list of the great lessons I was taught, through trial and error, by experience and reflection, through the mountains and troughs of the days I can see spooling away behind me.
So, let us list the chapter headings of the text book in my head; the lessons I have taught myself, sometimes at great cost, and at times as simply and easily as waking up on a good day from a deep sleep. I have used the first person, in all its forms, when I list them out; not the safer and more distant second person.
Lesson 1: My life is precious: each moment, each hour, each day and each night. Before you dismiss that statement as an inane platitude, read on. Yes, my life is precious, but only for me and mine, my loved ones, those near and dear to my heart. For all the others, it is of no relevance at all, it could be of as much significance as a worm under the boot. Who remembers the ten million lives lost in the world wars, or the thousands who perished when the Twin Towers collapsed or when the Titanic sank. Who sheds tears for the hundred and fifty thousand people who die each day in the world we live on? For my wife and our daughter, for those who love me for being who I am, my moving on will be a loss that is unbearable. For the others, I am as if I were never there: I have learnt not to overestimate the value of my life for others.
Lesson 2: Entropy is the law of life. My physical and mental powers will fade as I grow old. No one grows younger and healthier. In time, my limbs will weaken, my brain will falter. And where the genetic disposition is towards disease or dementia, then disease and dementia will be my lot. And so, I must engage with the world around me, keep my grey cells from rusting, showing respect to the others who come my way and taking pride in the simple joys around. I must enjoy my life as best as I can, trying to stretch the hours into more than twenty-four, sleeping the blessed sleep of the tired and exhausted at the end of each day.
Lesson 3: But then sleep will not come so easily. This too is a lesson I have learnt. It will come when it comes. With each passing year, I realise that I will sleep less and less at night. Perhaps that too is a physical and mental proclivity I have inherited. The more I try to relax and keep my mind rested and calm, the more I stay awake and bleary eyed. The mind cannot be stilled; I have not seen a single thinking person who can close his eyes and then drop off to sleep without a struggle. Or perhaps it is the way I am wired. And there is nothing I can do about it. And I refuse to let some chemicals aid me to my sleep.
Lesson 4: In the last few months I have come to know that there is no loving God who watches over me as a parent or even like a friendly uncle: out there is a universe which runs only on the laws of physics and chemistry. There is no reward or punishment for a good or bad deed. There is no life after life; no heaven, nor any hell. And while romance and religion will tell you otherwise, be assured that consciousness will end when we finally close our eyes. I have never seen a single occasion when a prayer has been indubitably answered, but as a coincidence. And we so easily find excuses for prayers that went unheeded. This is the lesson I have now learnt; that there is a chilling vacancy in the heavens above.
Lesson 5: When misfortunes befall us, do not curse God; for surely He did not send them. They come by sheer chance, the random turning of some distant wheel, or the mistakes you have committed. When something fortunate happens, then too it comes by dint of our own hard work, or by the operation of the throw of the dice, this time in our favour. So take them for what they really are; nothing more, nothing less. So, employ our wits, our cunning, our strength of mind and our talents for resolving our difficulties; we may not get help from elsewhere.
Lesson 6: There are no equal relationships in life. One plus one is never two; it is either one or three. In your work place or at home, in any mutual relationship with another, there is one who is above and another who is below. There is no perfect equilibrium that balances the roles and responsibilities between two people: there is one who takes and the other who gives. And we use our relationships for our own purposes, at times by crawling, at other times by commanding.
Lesson 7: True friends are few and far between. The majority of them love me for what I can do for them, and not for who I really am. Their numbers increase with power and pelf; when they are gone, our friends flee too. If you know this natural law of friendship, you will never be disappointed in them; you will take them for what they really are; chance leaves in the winds that come and go even as fortunes blow and fade.
Lesson 8: We must learn to nurture our wealth and save for a rainy day. By living a life of frugality and care as we start in life, we can stash away enough for a rainy day or for when our hair turns grey. Let not our life post retirement be one of penury or straitened ways. If we are careful, we will have enough for the small luxuries of life as we grow old. This is in our hands and let us not fritter away our chance for happiness in our later days.
Lesson 9: There is no need to be harsh on ourselves. I could, but a few years ago, do a punishing and vigorous exercise and come back home dripping in sweat, feeling the dopamine coursing in my veins. But now, now I can only do a slow amble. It bothered me for some time, this frailty in my limbs, but then I know now that I have to be kind to myself and not feel I am the poorer for it. Allow the gentleness within to smooth away the iron; stop coveting the perfect body, the toned muscle and the flat abdomen. It’s a sign of the casual grace in your life if you are a little flabby in the middle!
Lesson 10. And finally the lesson that I am my one and only salvation, that it is only my strength and resolution, my courage and fortitude, my determination and my heart that will save me from the perils all around. On me depends my fate, and barring accident and disease, it is I alone who will chart my own course, who shall make or mar my destiny. In this tiny corner of this terrible universe, in this fragment of fleeting time that I possess, it is for me and me alone to make the best I can out of my life.
So there, that is my list, my chart of lessons learnt; they come at a time when I have entered that phase of my life when reflection and contemplation rule higher than action. Do I come across as a cynical misanthrope? Well then, so be it. But you know what? Ever since I learnt my lessons, I feel more calm, more in control of my life and more confident of my abilities than ever before.
I may learn some more lessons as I go on, or rewrite the ones I today think are final. But then that is a blog for another year yet to arrive.