Are you comfortably numb?

Monday, August 22, 2005

Could also be called drivel - decide for yourself!

Isn’t getting older weird. People always say, the older you get, the faster time goes. And it’s true, it’s a mathematical principle, but it’s always slightly surprising just how much faster it does go. You feel like you’re in a car slowly accelerating. The concept of time is just as strange. You look at a year as a unit of time, or a month, or a week… and then you think about it, and realise that actually it’s only a collection of seconds, or milliseconds. You just let a lot of seconds go by and then all of a sudden that’s a day. And all the while it’s just ticking away, like a dripping tap that can never be stopped. I thought about it the other day when I was reminiscing about being a kid and growing up. You think, wow, that feels like ages ago, and it is, it’s years ago, and then you think, but actually, all those years, when you come down to it, just sort of slip by, steadily, steadily. The old ‘sands of time are sinking’ quote is pretty apt. I mean, you look at one grain of sand in an hour glass, and that’s nothing, just a tiny tiny grain. And then at the end of the 3 minutes or however long, all the sand’s gone, and it might look like quite a lot of sand, but actually, it’s just a lot of little grains. And that’s what all the years are. Just lots of little grains, all slipping away, unstoppably.

It reminds me of that thing John Lennon said, ‘Life is what happens to you when you’re busy making plans’. I think you spend most of your childhood fantasising about when you’re older. Little kids always boast about their age – you know, telling you how many quarters of a year old they are on top of the number. Everything is projected towards the future. What child doesn’t spend at least a few minutes every day thinking about the future? Thinking about what they want to do for their 5th birthday party, what they want to be when they grow up, or in the case of girls, what kind of dress and how many bridesmaids they want at their wedding (whilst trying to pin pillowcases to their heads as veils). Little kids can’t wait to be the big kids at primary school, then they can’t wait to be the little kids at secondary school, and so on. Going to university sounds like something only ancient people do. And then all of a sudden you get to 18 and bam, you don’t want to grow up any more. You just want to stay there, no responsibility but no naivety (or so you think), carefully balanced in between the two realities. You get your first P45 and you think, oh dear, I think I’m growing up. Then you start getting taxed (when you get a proper job, after the 2 hours after school one), and that’s a real wake up call. All of a sudden you’re becoming an adult.

I remember when I started driving on my own, after I passed my test. What felt most strange was not the fact that I was single-handedly controlling a huge lump of metal that could cause a potentially fatal accident, but that I, myself, yes me, I was driving. Driving is what grown-ups do! Driving is what Mum and Dad do. It’s what your friends’ parents do. It’s what so-and-so who’s a bit older than you started doing a couple of years ago and you were in awe of them. It seems only the other day that you were sat on your dad’s lap being allowed to put both your hands on the steering wheel in the supermarket carpark and ‘drive’. And then all of a sudden, you’re there, on your own, doing it, and you look at your hands, the only ones on the steering wheel, and you’re on the wrong side of the car, and you realise that you’re not a little kid any more. And it’s scary.

Then you start having to make decisions. Proper decisions, and it terrifies you. Decisions that could potentially map the course of the rest of your life. Which degree shall I do? That determines what careers are open to me. Which university shall I go to? It’s pretty likely that I’ll end up living wherever I go for a fairly lengthy period of time. It determines what churches I find, the people I meet, maybe even who I’ll marry. And then you realise… this is the end of the road, and the start of the motorway. Life until now is just the slip road, the preparatory part, where everything is being pieced together to determine what direction you’re going in. What GCSEs you do, what A levels you choose, the interests you have, the books that grab your imagination, the people that drift in and out of your life, the careers you dream of, everything is just a road on the way to the rest of your life. They’re just patchwork pieces that make up the quilt. That conversation about what you would really love to do, that was a few more stitches. That person you met who you really admired, they were another square of material. That exam result, another. And then you get to the stage where you’re about to go to university and you’re at the end of the slip road, about to get onto the motorway, and then when you graduate and get a job you know you’ll have merged onto it, with an imperceptible but fundamental shift in gear, heading straight towards the rest of your life. Because once you finish your education and start working you know the questions will stop, questions that have been familiar to you your whole life. ‘So what secondary school…. what college… what university are you going to? What GCSEs… A levels… course are you doing?’ It’s all going to stop. Once you get yourself on some sort of career path no one’s going to come up to you and check up on where your life is next going, what path you’re next choosing, which junction you’re going to stop and turn at. You’ll have chosen your path, laid the foundations, traced the lines of your route with the keys before getting in the car, and then you’ll be there.

And isn’t it strange that we spend our lives up until the end of the slip road racing there, accelerating, desperate to get there as fast as we can. “When I’m 17 I’ll be able to drive! When I’m 18 I’ll be able to vote!” And then when you’ve made it, you’re about to get on the motorway, you suddenly look back a few metres and realise, do I actually want to be here? You think about having to pay for your own shampoo and loo roll and realise you don’t actually know how to pay the TV licence. Council tax, you have a vague idea that it’s a bad thing, but how does it work? You think about – shock horror – having a mortgage. You think about bills, home insurance, disposable income becoming a distant memory and the numbers 9 and 5.You realise that from this point on, you’re on your own. No one to subsidise your life. The 3 Rs – responsibility, responsibility, responsibility - (it’s like a Thatcherite answer to Blair’s 1997 mantra) are staring you squarely in the face. And you can’t look them in the eye. You feel like you can’t be bothered to grow up. It’s too much effort. You want to get all those grains back from the hourglass and scoop them up and put them back in the top. But you can’t. They’re gone, forever. And all the while, the tap keeps dripping, the seconds keep ticking away.

Then again, isn’t the slip road the worst part of motorway driving anyway? Once you’re on the motorway, then you feel like you’re really going somewhere. And life in the fast lane can be fun – hey, there’s a song in there somewhere. But more importantly than all that, I’m glad I’m not driving alone. In fact, I’m not even driving. I’m just in the passenger seat. God’s in the driving seat and he will take me wherever he wants me to go. And for all of you blokes out there, no the moral of the story isn’t that women shouldn’t be allowed to drive.

“The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want.
He makes me lie down in green pastures,
He leads me beside quiet waters,
He restores my soul.
He guides me in paths of righteousness for his name’s sake.”


  • It's not drivel. Thank you for writing it. It echoes a lot of emotions I feel, only from the perspective of a parent!

    By Blogger Cora, at 12:59 am  

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