So the eighth month of the eleventh year of the new century is almost over. Eleven years in to century 21, and I'm just learning to fill in the date blank on my checks with a number that begins with two.
So far, the 21st century has been a blur. Tempus has never fugited at such speed. It seems like I've barely had time to feed the dog. And there's a new year coming and a new year after that, and they'll come faster and faster, and I'm finally forced to accept the idea that sooner or later, one of those new years will arrive without me in it.
There comes a time in everyone's life when it becomes impossible to continue to ignore the Beast in the basement. We may have persuaded ourselves that we'd be young always or that middle age now lasts longer than ever, or even that 60 is the new 40, but at a certain point you hear the Beast bumping around down there. Once in a while it scrapes its nails against the door at the top of the stairs. It's getting impatient.
If I belonged to a religion that promised either resurrection or reincarnation -- some kind of post-mortem dance card -- I'd probably feel a little different. But I don't. So that leaves me in the position of asking all the usual questions: why, what for, where to now?
One of my favorite films (if I've written about this before, forgive me) is the Japanese movie "Afterlife," written and directed by Hirokazu Kore-Eda. You die and you find yourself a member of a group of new arrivals at a rundown facility that looks like an abandoned high school: drab corridors, linoleum floors, drafty rooms, the tea never the right temperature. You're there for a week, and you have only one thing to do: through a series of interviews with the staff', you're going to choose the moment from your life in which you will spend eternity.
We follow one group of interviewees through the film, and we watch them, one by one, sift their lives for meaning or happiness. Most of them start with something big and gradually refine it into something tiny. A high school girl killed in a car crash begins with the night she and her friends went to Tokyo Disneyland, but she finally chooses a moment when she was four and she was resting her cheek on her mother's knee and she could smell the freshly laundered linen of her mother's apron. One man chooses a moment in which he himself was miserable, but he had just freed the woman he was to marry so she could be with the man she loved, and she was ecstatic. He decides to spend eternity in the moment of her happiness.
When everyone has made a choice, the memories are filmed in a wonderfully low-tech studio, and then the interviewees all come together in a small theater, and as a person's moment in screened, poof, he or she disappears.
When my wife and I saw this film for the first time, it changed the way we look at our lives. We made a commitment to try to acknowledge good moments, however tiny, as they arise. And for eight or ten years now, we've worked to keep the commitment fresh.
So, as the Beast gets bumptious, I guess what I need to do is keep myself open to the richness of those moments while I'm in them; love more and love better; write more and write better; and try never to go numb to beauty. And to have as good a time as I can, because the only god I could ever believe in is one that regards joy as the highest form of worship. In other words, I should live as I should have been living all along.