“All of those days that came and went — I didn’t realize those were life.”
I’d read the above line in Erling Kagge’s Silence: In the Age of Noise and closed it afterward. It was a dark thought, dripping in nostalgia and regret. It reminded me of the one Kazuo Ishiguro wrote in his masterpiece The Remains of the Day:
“…it was as though one had available a never-ending number of days, months, years […]; an infinite number of further opportunities in which to remedy the effect of this or that misunderstanding. There was surely nothing to indicate at the time that such evidently small incidents would render whole dreams forever irredeemable.”
Most people don’t discuss this. It’s something we tend to avoid, postpone, and altogether ignore — this thought that I might have lived my days better and that it may be late for certain things.
Our childhoods and younger years are full of youth and vitality. Life is a fountain, a fresh wind where the very air is thick with promise and hope. As time trickles away, this feeling changes. It doesn’t disappear — life is thick with promise and hope — but it does change. The hands of the clock move and, at some point, you and I realize they only ever move in one direction. There’s no backtracking. No second thoughts.
That’s what both Erling and Kazuo mean in their respective ways. Looking back at the days that came and went, realizing that those small bundles of minutes constitute an entire life. They come and go, each morning and evening, as steady as a clock, while we spend our time as if it has no end. It is an unnerving thought.
But you know this already and I do too. We’ve always been aware of it on some level. Like a half-forgotten dream, the awareness of our own transience hides beneath the surface. It hides in the shadows, while we do our best to ignore it. Days tick away.
Then something happens. Some raw infusion of awareness surges to the surface. The death of a loved one, or a personal brush with it, or something as simple as a broken wristwatch. As you look at the coffin or the immobile hands of the wristwatch, you remember.
Time has an end. We’re not in a play rehearsal. The theatre door is wide open, the audience is here, the curtain is drawn. This is, ladies and gentlemen, the real thing, yours truly, one and only — life.
Almost immediately, something in me wants to hurry up.
“Yes! I will write, I will create a podcast, yes I will make that app and start that company, I’ll be an entrepreneur, and learn to program, yes I’ll travel to Bali, and I’ll travel to Nicaragua and I’ll travel even more, and I’ll take hundreds of photographs without a filter that nevertheless look filtered, I’ll write the book, and the other book, I’ll climb the corporate ladder, and be the boss of a company, I’ll have a beach body, become an influencer, a Silicon Valley guru, I’ll open up a yoga studio, I’ll have a cooler life than all the Instagram people, and eat all the superfood in the world, I’ll read a hundred books a year, and I’ll…I’ll…”
Breathe. Yes, life is coming to an end and I might have lived it better, but that’s all the more reason to slow down. To do one or two things well instead of succumbing to the urge to spread myself thin, like too little butter over too much bread.
As the title of Kazuo’s book implies, there is the part of life that is over, gone, caput — but it’s not over. Not quite yet.
We still have what remains of the day.