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On Elderhood…

My friend Julius Oosthuizen sent a link to the interview of Stephen Jenkinson with Andrew Wilcox (Exploring Wild Ideas by Orphan Wisdom). Jenkinson has a way with words, ordinary words. Like someone taking foliage from a garden and making the most striking arrangement, Jenkinson arranges ordinary words to extraordinary effect.

He talks quite a bit about “social media”, and how in fact it should be named “anti-social” media. The more time we spend on our devices, the more alienated we become from each other. The more we think we get to know each other, the more we learn that we hardly notice each other in real life any longer. This way of communicating is also about our sameness, our echo chambers of sameness. We have not only become indifferent to others, but in fact, we have become quite fearful of difference. Whether that difference is skin colour, age, opinion or sexual orientation, social media herds us together in creating a fear of the “Other”. And it provides all the answers. We simply have to think of something anywhere close to our so-called “smart” phones, and the next thing it will give us an advertisement or opinion on Facebook. Voila! No need to think.

We have become masters at formulating everything. We are in charge, science has proven, facts are clear and knowledge is king. Or is it? If this was the case, why are we so fearful? Why are we so defiant and angry? Jenkins points out that “men are so skilled in anger”, simply because it is a cover for sadness and loss. Never before in the history of the world have men felt so out of control, albeit only (for some) because they cannot walk into a bottle store, buy cigarettes or send their children off to school. Of course, this anger phenomenon has been part of the male psyche since long before COVID-19, it is just shining very brightly under the spotlight at the moment.

The problem with formulating everything and being “in control” of everything, is that we have lost our sense of the mystery. We have simplified and dumbed down our being-in-the-world to only acknowledge that which science has proven. Well, see where that got us! A global pandemic, filled with conspiracy theories and angry people. And death… Well, let’s start with death – always a good point of departure. I have said this many times, and for the sake of not sounding like a repeat message when trying to phone Telkom offices, I will not embroider again. Well not in detail.

What are we so scared of? What – in our silly minds – is the worst thing that can happen to us at this time? The absolute, ultimate worst thing? We will die. Well, I have news for you – we are all going to die, sooner or later. ALL. OFF. US. Yes, you too twenty-year-old year old master of the universe millenial. Jenkins says “You do not own the architecture of your own life, you are entrusted with it.” Take a deep breath, and read that sentence again. And again. This is not YOUR life. It is not a personal possession. You are but passing through, in this form, for this period of time. It will end.

I do not really care what your beliefs are, nor what you think happens after you die. Quite often I think we dodge the reality of death because “ we do not believe in any life after death”. That is not the point! The point is death itself, and our absolute terror of it. What is it that makes us so scared? Maybe the mysticism of it?

Perhaps the fact that we dare not contemplate our own mortality, because it does actually scare the living daylights (pun intended) out of us?

Jenkins does a beautiful semantic breakdown of the word AWAKE, as in the opposite of ASLEEP. Yet, it has little to do with SLEEP. The pre x A refers to “pertaining to..”, in other words, “pertaining referring to WAKE”. Now the word wake has two meanings that can be brought into this context – one being the wake after a funeral, the other the wake that we leave behind us in the surf when we ski or steer a boat through the water. (He jokes about the fact that one cannot be at one’s wake… think about it!)

He then makes this statement, which I would urge you to read a few times: “You have been gathered into the web of consequence that emanates from everything that you have done, everything that you haven’t done, everything that you are still going to do…” and so forth and so on. He carries on: “inhabiting responsibly this trail of consequence…to participate in it, not to control it so much…to participate purposefully with a high degree of conscience, as well as regret…” COVID-19 is our opportunity to see ourselves within the context of the mystic nature of Being. To elevate our thoughts, and to contemplate our own mortality. I often think of the phrase “a God-fearing man” – what does it really mean? I think it implies respect, living in a way that shows deep consciousness of something bigger than me. Perhaps it is time to look our fear of death in the eye and let it be our Teacher, teaching us how to live. Teaching us that there is no such possession as ME, that there is only US. That we are bound together in a universe that is divinely connected by mystery. This mystery requires us a more respectful way to Be.

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