Sunday, November 08, 2009

On the Subject of Forty-Two

There is a machine in Douglas Adam's trilogy, The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy (okay, I know it outgrew being a trilogy), that is set up to calculate the exact meaning of life, the universe and everything. Deep Thought is its name and the answer it comes up with is the number of 42.

42 is quickly becoming an important number for me. It has some resonance in my husband's family: his mother and father both lived in houses that held that number. For me, it is the number of years I will have on my next birthday - a number of years that is beginning to sound far older than I thought it would.

A few days ago, at the doctors I was asked if I smoked and for how long. I horrified myself by answering that I had been smoking for about twenty years. Where in the name of holy jeans did those years sneak off to? And that got me thinking again about how quickly a year seems to pass these days.

Years, when you are small, seem to pass very, very slowly indeed. I spent a great deal of time wishing them away: wishing I was wiser, cooler, popular and a lot of other various attributes that I associated with being older. Now I wonder how much of my life I've spent wishing, wishing.

As the years have gone by, I have found that each year doesn't last as long as the previous. I wonder is that because certain things have an inevitability about them, once you have learned how to get the hang of them: like Christmas, or Easter, or poxy Valentine's Day, or the start of school holidays, or the new school year. All these events stack up to make a year, and they just flash past - like swallows flitting in for spring and away again for autumn.

I suppose I'm supposed to feel contented with where I am now. After all, if the meaning of Life, the Universe and Everything is 42, then it stands to reason that perhaps I know it all now, doesn't it? If only that were true. Someone once told me that by the time you reach 40, you have crystallised; you have somehow hardened into the person you will be for much of the rest of your life.

Trouble is, it's very hard to appreciate whether this is true or not, when the view you have is always a close up, and only a frontal one at that (the back of you being very difficult to see in the mirror). I used to think I had done well to reach the age that Christ was allegedly crucified at. Now, looking back, I think that I was really only getting the hang of life at that stage, and it was only a very tenuous hang, I might add.

I wonder what I'll think in ten years time? I wonder what I'll feel about having been 42 in retrospect? I wonder if I'll even make it to 52. Time was (especially in my twenties) when you didn't worry about things like that. Old was something that happened to your aged grandparents - or their contemporaries. It was never going to happen to you.

Ah, how youth is wasted on the young- isn't that what they say?

11 comments:

Rachel Fox said...

It seems to me you've done an awful lot in your nearly 42 years. Have you had a mid-life crisis yet though? Maybe it's on its way...it's only another of life's experiences!

I say goodbye to 42 in a couple of months time. It's not been a bad year.
x

Dominic Rivron said...

I'll be 52 next March. The decade you have to look forward to need not be so bad.

Do I feel older? I was thinking about this only the other day. I feel -I am- physically fitter than I've ever been in my life (I smoked for 13 years when I was younger). However, I sense a quality about my body that I can only describe like this: if I cooked and ate my arm right now I'd find it a lot tougher than it was 30 years ago!

Funny, getting older.

As for wishing, one can't beat trying to live in the Now. Getting older focusses the mind on this wonderfully.

I remember reading somewhere that Adams and someone else (a Python?) sat around for ages discussing whether or not certain numbers were intrinsically funny. They decided 42 was.

Totalfeckineejit said...

I am a name not a number.But the fraction of your life that is a year gets smaller as you get older hence the acceleration.ageing is shite but it will happen to everyone it is a great leveller and a fairly effective killer too.
I'm all out of smart ass remarks at the moment. Hey ho.

BarbaraS said...

Rachel, I think I have a mid=life crisis every year! :) Seriously though, being similar ages means we have a lot of shared culture in common. I knew there was a good reason why I connected so well with your blog - esp. the music end of things :)

Dominic, there you are to give me heart :) I can see that there is much to admire about your attitude to life - I thought you were far younger! That made me laugh, tho', about cooking your arm. If it was me, I'd cook a bit of me arse - rump might be a bit more tender ;)

TFE, I think your comments are astute and ass-kicking as usual :) Life is as life does, isn't it? :)

Tommaso Gervasutti said...

Dear Barbara, thank you very much for the very illuminating comment on Eliot.

The Hitchhiker's Guide is a book I sold and re-sold many times when I worked in a marvellous only English bookshop in Venice which we closed in 1994.

Dick said...

I'm 64 and I feel as positively engaged, committed and passionate as ever I did.

Emotionally and spiritually, I still feel myself to be a work in progress so the business of the getting of wisdom continues. But I'm much less troubled by the urges, the demands, the yearnings, the self-aggrandising needs that drove me through youth and into earlier middle age. I'm less angry, less covetous, less competitive, less fearful, less needing of approval and validation. And physically I can still manage the heavy lifting and walk a rugged mile or two without feeling a need for imminent heart and lung transplant.

But any incipient smugness at such relative peace of mind is offset by an increased consciousness of mortality. I'm aware that the last major rite of passage is learning (fairly rapidly) how to view the passage of time to come with equanimity.

Thus the two decades from where you are to where I am: little to be feared and, potentially, much to be gained.

sunnydunny said...

Old is an attitude of mind. My mother, who will be 90 next month, once said that she wasn't going to a particular event in her village, because "it was full of old folk." I know what she means, and I've known a lot of 'old folk' who are younger than I am.

BarbaraS said...

See, I knew I was asking the right people - I agree with you Colin and Dick about it being a state of mind; I look younger than I am, and I think younger than most people of my age do - not that I'm immature, but you know what I mean :)

And funnily enough, most people I hang about with, either in real life or on the blogosphere, have that tendency too :)

Debi said...

Dick's right - on many levels it just keeps getting better (says she at 54, a number that seems utterly bizarre and I can't relate to in the least).

And my dad's 95th birthday is on Saturday ...

WOMEN RULE WRITER said...

I'm identifying with your post here. I hope I mellow with age - that would be nice! I don't want to be hardened into this particular form. Eek.

BarbaraS said...

Yes Debi, both you and your Dad are two people I know who totally don't act or look their age ;)

Yup, N, I knows what ya means ;)