Looking ahead, one step at a time

By Dr R Neerunjun Gopee

There is no such thing as past, present and future: there is only the present. Because no sooner comes a moment than it is already gone and therefore becomes the past, to be succeeded immediately by the next moment which is the future

 It is only for the sake of material convenience, in order to organize our lives and to make scientific calculations and projections, that we have ‘divided’ time into segments that we are commonly familiar with – seconds, minutes, hours, days, years. As with other measurements, as regards time also scientists have to go beyond at each end of the scale: thus they have had to factor in milliseconds and nanoseconds at the micro level, to centuries, millennia and light-years at the macro and cosmic levels.

From the strictly absolute point of view of course, there is no such thing as past, present and future: there is only the present. Because no sooner comes a moment than it is already gone and therefore becomes the past, to be succeeded immediately by the next moment which is the future. But as each moment experienced is stored as memory, such a collection of memories then constitutes our past, and for those of us at the ebbing phase of our lives these memories – especially the more pleasant ones – become our lifeline to face the future. That is, to populate the moment to moment living that befalls our lot, along with whatever else we are capable of at that stage.

Thus, given that we are social beings conditioned to reckon with the calendar, inevitably the passage to another year, called the ‘new’ year and celebrated at its turning by many as the ‘New Year’, leads us to some introspection about the year that has passed and some reflection about the next one into which we are being ushered. How we fare through this transition depends entirely upon us as individuals.

For me personally, as the years have rolled by, I have come to think of this as part of the routine of my life and not to give it any special importance, so that memories don’t come to spoil the show. It’s best to just accept the period as one to cool down a bit, and to be realistic in both introspection and reflection.

For when we think back, it’s best not to go too far into the past at such times; restricting oneself to just the preceding year is good enough. We will all have had some lows and highs, some losses and gains, some joys and pains, and particularly for those of us who have to brave it alone remembering what is good and positive is the most balanced attitude to adopt – the Wordsworthian ‘recollections in tranquility’ that can soothe, and bring silent smiles rather than tears or, if perforce the latter, they will be ones of joy. That will save us much anguish and will allow us to live the next moments more happily.

Like many others in my social circle did before me, I was privileged to have shared the supreme novelty of becoming a dada (grandfather) for the first time with another dear friend who was similarly blessed. To behold, and then to hold that little bundle of joy cuddling in one’s lap is a joy that ‘surpasseth all understanding’, equal to nothing that one has ever experienced, not even a first love! And I recall a touching poem that was penned by a ‘fan’ when a ‘pearl’ came into her life many years ago, testimony of the deepest emotion that can make us glow inside and, why, even give rise to a burst of poetic creativity if one is so inclined, a talent not given to many. I understand there’s another such expression of talent, Decembre, which is yet to reach me!

As we look ahead, realism and pragmatism must be our support and guide. It is often heard that after the age of sixty, one must reckon every new day as a bonus. Perhaps with the increase of the life expectancy that advances in science and medicine have brought about, we may justifiably shift this goal post by a few years. Nevertheless, the underlying philosophy is sound, and if we abide by it that will be another motivation to take our destiny in our own hands and not allow ourselves to be swayed by the temptations that this era of conspicuous consumption throws at us.

Indeed, how gratifying indeed it should be looked upon as – if we take an objective view – that in the natural order of the life cycle, beyond the proverbial three-score-and-ten, some of our faculties tend to weaken and our strength too is not as before. Unfortunately and as things go, some will be afflicted with frailty, others perhaps with disease or infirmity, and thus for all the priority of priorities will – or should — be health. It’s the time of life when we realise that the greatest wealth is indeed health.

We mustn’t rue that we have lost the taste for some foods that we used to yearn for in earlier years or that we tend to eat a bit less: that’s in fact a good thing, for our calorie needs are equally reduced. A little loss of memory and of hearing is, who knows, perhaps nature’s gentle way of filtering out things that had better not be remembered or heard lest they cause pain and regret…

And for the same reason, we must proceed only step by step. Countries, companies and organizations may harbour grand visions and plan for the long term, but as individuals we can only look forward a little ahead and keep ourselves fit to reach there. We can start by counting our blessings, as I wrote in my article of last week, and build on them – again, that is entirely up to us, in the choice of what we decide to put into our mouths, and how we decide to organize our time – what is nowadays given the label ‘lifestyle’, which includes what we eat and drink.

Next is regular exercise according to our capacity, walking in the open air being the best. But for those who for whatever reason cannot go to designated spaces such as Trou-O-Cerfs, even walking several minutes in one’s yard and stretching out will keep the body and mind ticking more soundly, and preferably done early morning. And that reduction in physical strength is a reminder not to overdo, to restrain ourselves so that we come to no harm.

But the mind though needs some additional nourishment, in the form of reading or practising certain acrobatics like crosswords or Sudoku, as well as engaging with like-minded friends in new learning, for example language. For me and a growing number, Sanskrit is opening up a whole new world.

Whenever I reflect upon our blessings and the adage that health is our true wealth, the scene that comes to my mind is that of an 80-plus patriarch whom I was called to do a domiciliary visit upon by his daughter-in-law many years ago. His grand house was situated at a height and overlooked the domain which in his days of glory he must have contemplated every morning as the lord and master. But there he was, an epitome of Shakespearean frailty, curled up in an old style bed of bygone days – high brass bedstead -, lying on one side in that dark room, his body covered in sores and lying in his smelly excretions and secretions, unable to hear and speak. The daughter-in-law who had phoned was not around; there was only an elderly, weak-looking maid who could volunteer no information of any medical use.

Do everything to remain as healthy as we can, both in mind and body. Look forward to every day, and savour every moment. Never mind the year or the years, the moments will add up to them in due course. That’s the best prescription I can think of.

* Published in print edition on 27 December 2019

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