Autumn is a second spring where every leaf is a flower ~ Albert Camus (1913 –1960)
Damart is probably the best-known manufacturer of thermal underwear in the UK. Every year, as autumn arrives along with the falling leaves, a Damart catalogue pops through the letter box. Until now my wife has thrown it in the bin. This year she has kept hold of it. She is starting to feel the cold.
We're neither of us old but we are "getting on". The delusion of immortality is fading. Aches don't go away. Pains and other symptoms begin to seem serious and could presage an illness that will stay.
When you read about the latest health scare or news that this, that or the other activity predisposes or increases the chances of being afflicted with this, that or the other condition, nothing is said about the fact that the best predictor of getting cancer or succumbing to a heart attack or a stroke or going bananas is getting old.
Now I'm not trying to be morbid or to depress anyone. I am quite happy most of the time. I am content to be "getting on" despite the disadvantages. The drawing in of the years, like the drawing in of the days, makes me reflect on how lucky I have been. How lucky I am.
I haven't achieved a great deal in my life. In many ways it's been an "also ran" sort of life, the kind of life that most people lead. Many of us try to bulk up what we've achieved but, personally, I don't see much point in that. I hope I haven't made too many people unhappy during my life and, if I've achieved that, then I'm glad.
Life continues to offer challenges and moments of excitement and novelty, and in my small way, I keep trying to push my horizons forward, learning new things and sometimes making new friends. Listening to other people, mostly through what they write, is a good way to avoid stagnation.
There are things that make me sad. I feel sorry for people whose lives are closed and limited, and who can never experience the richness which I've enjoyed by having the luxury of choice. My parents left Czechoslovakia when I was less than two years old and I often think of what might have been. The lives of generations of people in the Eastern bloc were crushed by a dynasty of greedy megalomaniacs who claimed to know best how lives should be lived. They didn't of course. They simply enjoyed power and control and the luxury that came with them.
Today, people continue to live under the heel of other megalomaniacs and in even more misery than the compatriots I left behind. These monsters ensure the continuation of poverty in much of Africa, the Middle East and South America and are responsible for many broken lives.
How quickly things change when tyranny subsides. Many people in South East Asia are joining the lucky generation, even in China. And India shows that it is not only dictators who prevent people escaping poverty and enjoying the freedom that general prosperity brings. It can be overweening bureaucrats too. Indians call them the abominable no men.
I am one of the lucky ones who lived in an open society in the 20th Century. I am horrified by how carelessly that openness is being thrown away.
At the beginning of this piece, I mentioned the delusion of immortality which dominates our lives. I should also mention that many people cling to that delusion – in the face of all the evidence – by looking forward to an afterlife. (Remember that most suicide bombers are drawn into their terrible trade by the promise of an afterlife.) How much stronger we would be if we recognised that our lives are all that we know we have. Whether or not there is an afterlife, if we could just accept that life is the only thing we can be sure of we would, perhaps, recognise how very precious it is.
For me this is the very foundation of what is right and wrong. If I have nothing other than my own life, the same is true of every other person. If I fail to enjoy my life to the best of my ability, I have nothing. That is also true of every other person. So I should like to help everyone with whom I come into contact to enjoy their lives. Not to tell them how to live their lives – because their lives are theirs and not mine – but to offer a helping hand and to share. To share with absolutely everyone who wants to share with me. No-one is different: quick or slow, big or small, white or black, woman or man, weak or strong, old or young ...
Nothing big (it's far too easy to get it wrong) but in little everyday ways. The only true and lasting happiness, after all, comes from companionship with others.
Damart days are good days for me. I hope they are good for you too – when you get there.