What if there’s no future?

I was asked this morning, just in passing, which decade I would most like to have lived in. It’s a question I’ve been asked surprisingly often, but which I mean it’s been asked approximately once every six months for as long as I can remember. It’s one of those questions people use to find a way in to another conversation, about the music of the ’60s, or the family values of the ’50s. No-one seems to be very interested in my response, which is why my standard answer of the 1920s provoked little more than a shrug this morning. Mind you, I wouldn’t be very interested in anyone else’s answer, whether it was the 3010s or the 1290s. I’ve come to justify my answer with some ramble about Fitzgerald and glamour and other such things, but the point is that it’s not interesting because it’s not possible. None of us ever get the choice of which decade we’re born into, and so it will forever remain a little ice-breaker, along the lines of ‘would you have sex with the Corrs, if you had to do the bloke too?’, which I seem to remember was an important dilemma for a while, probably when the Corrs were big news, so a little while ago.

I quite like living my 30s through the 2010s, though I can’t imagine that my life would be significantly different if I was this age in the 1990s. I’ve now reached an age where I’ve got about as much future as past. It’s an ideal age: the past is recent enough that I can remember it, I can revel in my triumphs and I can learn from my mistakes. There’s a quite a bit of future too, and I reckon I’ve still got quite a lot to look forward to. I asked one of my classes at School to write about the future or the past, from any point of view. All by one pupil wrote about the future. Of course they did – they’ve got far more future than past, and even though the future is uncertain, it’s also exciting. At age 16, you’re pretty bullet-proof, and there’s a myriad of paths in front of you. Even if you take the wrong one, you’ve got time to return to the junction to take another, and it might just lead you somewhere exciting anyway. Time passes very slowly when you’re 16; there’s not even much past to remember, so you can recall things easily.

Being old doesn’t interest me, which is a puffed-out chest way of saying it scares me a little. I remember waking up one night when I was about 8 or 9 years old, literally in a sweat from the realisation that I would die, and that it would be forever. My life would be as a flash of light between two eternities of dark, and even at 8 years old, that was a worrying thought. When you’re old, you’ve got a very limited future, and most of what you have is past. When you’re young, the future is uncertain, but that’s exciting, and it’s brimming with possibility. When you’re old, even the past is uncertain; there’s so much of it to remember, so much to regret and so much on which to ponder. You’ve had your one chance, and there’s nothing you can do about it.

I’d like to remain in this state of middle-ground for a while. I acknowledge both what’s gone before and what’s still to come. I like my memories to remain vivid, not seen through frosted glass, and I like to think that my mistakes yet to come won’t be un-correctable.

Dan Wheldon, the Indy car driver, died yesterday in a crash at the Indy 300 in Las Vegas. I have a picture of my School year in 1991, and he’d been at School only a month by then. His future was uncertain, and it was certainly exciting, though ultimately tragic. I wonder if he’d have swapped the excitement for a long uneventful life, Achilles-like?

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One thought on “What if there’s no future?

  1. I really enjoyed this post. Approaching 30 now, – well, nearly; I have one more year – I am starting to feel the same way. The story of your 8-year-old self waking up with a fear of mortality really resonated with me, as I did the same thing at around that age, and from then on, with some frequency. I wonder whether it happens more because you've not lived a long life, whether it's because you have so much to lose, or whether, when you really consider it, being nothing is something no living human can conceive of.

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