The secret of life

Most sailors simply don’t get it, do they.
I have heard some of them actually say without a second thought: ‘The fun bits of sailing are leaving port and reaching your destination.’ To me that is blasphemy. To me it is like saying: ‘The fun bits of life are birth and death.’
That is weird, isn’t it.
Well, I didn’t actually ask for it. I mean, I distinctly remember I was pushed out – my mum (back then already!) being fed up with me.
And now they keep telling me that I cried once I was born. They omit the fact that somebody kept knocking on my prat until I did. It was meant to be some crash course about life, I suppose, as it hurt.
Anyway, when it had dawned on me they wouldn’t let me back in – at least, not until I was eighteen, they said, and decently married – I decided, as life had seemingly turned into an inescapable fact, that I might as well enjoy the ride.

They lied, by the way. By the time I was eighteen I was twice the size of my mother.
On top of that she claimed, she was already married to someone. As a matter of fact, she had already been married before I was born.
Bummer! I smelt a rat. ‘To whom?’ I roared, prepared to kill any competitor.
Turned out I actually knew the culprit. It was the same bloke that turned up every Sunday to cut the meat at dinner time – the one that used to laugh about his own jokes all the time. I felt that I actually might have liked the poor soul – bless him! – if I had had a chance to get to know him.
Nevertheless, I was gobsmacked, felt tricked. Well, that’s life, I guess.

Needless to say I never married. I went sailing. Now, that’s life…
And I must admit that reaching a destination every once in a while can be quite enjoyable: sailing into a port, finding a berth, a resting place – just as long as it is not the final one. Although I shall never learn to leave the ocean behind me without that tinge of regret – I do love life, you see (albeit nearly a contradiction nowadays – ocean and life – with all that plastic offal).

Once or twice some sombre looking transvestite in a long black dress tried to convince me to immediately stop doing that – loving life, he meant – and wait patiently, as ‘our real life will only begin in the afterlife’.
‘That’s all fine by me,’ I replied, ‘but, please, let me enjoy the foreplay!’

It’s not only sailors, by the way, who make that mistake…
I remember that at school we used to love to read the adventures of Ulysses; we translated them from ancient Greek. Well, I, the undersigned, loved them, to be more accurate; my classmates did not. They could barely wait until the end, where Ulysses would reach his beloved Ithaca and fall into Penelope’s arms.
If I close my eyes I can still see the disappointment in their eyes when that finally happened: So, what’s next?
Well, nothing of course! What did you think ‘epilogue’ meant?
Silence – it was all Greek to them.

If those classmates ever discovered that enjoying the ride may be more important than reaching the end, I do not know. Some of them may very well have turned into managers, the kind that live (or rather ‘go’) from deadline to deadline, preferably skipping every ‘Boring!’ bit in between if that were at all possible, never realising that that bit in between is where the secret actually may hide; instead, longing to find out if they will reach the next deadline bang on time – deadlines being their lifelines.
And, some of them may very well have reduced themselves to a socially awkward person – the kind that turns up at the dinner table on Sundays.

I actually asked one of those managers once what life to him was all about (apart from cutting the meat on Sundays). He instantly answered: ‘Well, making money of course!’
‘Hang on, hang on,’ I begged to differ, ‘money is a nice by-product, I agree, but money can never be the essence, can it – the secret of life, so to speak.’
He looked at me as if I was the dumbest individual he had ever met. Well, at least he got something right.
The other day I heard he died of cancer a couple of years ago, all alone, in some hospital – three times divorced, eight children, fifteen grandchildren. Well, at least he served his purpose in life, the transvestite in the long black dress may feel.

I find that rather interesting: when we are young we actually believe that the key to the secret of life is to be found in stuff we do not have – like money and possessions – (ignoring all the wealth we do have) and when we are old and have all that – i.e. money and possessions – we discover that… that’s not it; that what’s really important was already there to begin with, staring us in the face all the time.
Why does that realisation kick in only then – when it is (almost) too late?
You may of course argue ‘Better late than never!’, but at the same time there are scores of people who never will be in the money. Will they die as dumb as they were born, in the belief that they missed out on ‘the real thing’ – ‘the real thing’ being money and possessions?
Does that make us the dumbest species that has ever walked the face of the earth?

According to a friend I discussed the matter with the other day, the catalyst of the realisation of what is really important in life is the looming of ‘that final curtain’.
‘Most youngsters won’t stop to enjoy a beautiful sunset,’ he explained, ‘they have no time for that. “Oh, give over with your beautiful sunset! There have been millions of them, and there will be many millions more, come rain or shine!”
‘You and I, however, we take the time to look at the sunset with awe and respect, and gratitude maybe, and with peace in our hearts, because we realise that this particular sunset may very well be the last one we feast our eyes on. The looming curtain has made us realise that.
‘The happy few realise early on in life that it is there, the curtain. Some of them may have had a shock therapy – let us say, a serious illness – to come to that realisation. They have realised that the curtain may suddenly be drawn on them, on anybody – Memento mori!
‘Whatever it was, as long as it makes them realise that we don’t need scores of Facebook friends to enjoy what’s important in life. Okay, one friend would be nice, or a good neighbour – but if not, so be it. It’ll be curtains anyway, no matter in which direction we sail. And that is no secret.’

RIP, Ali Banat. And thanks!

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