Wasting one’s life

One tries to make sense of life either when one is very young or when one is very old. Being neither an adolescent nor a geriatric, I do not really qualify. But I do tend to think about Life at times, the one with the capital ‘L’. Don’t you?

Why are we called human beings, for example? Why the humble & lowly present participle? There are human has-beens, of course, which is present perfect though the individuals in question were far from ‘perfect’ even in the past. Then there are the would-be humans, that’s future conjunctive – just watch the hooligans at the next Euro football championships and you’ll know that evolution is far from complete. And what about the (gramatically) imperfect ‘used-to-be-humans’? I could name any number of polticians past & present who’d fit into that category. All in all, except in the narrow biological/anthropological sense, shouldn’t most of us be called human becomings instead of human beings?

It seems to me that just as the child grows into an adult, the human becoming has the possibility of metamorphosing into a human being – but only the possibility, not a guarantee. Most of us remain half-hatched & half-baked. God’s poultry or pottery will have to close down one of these millennia if it goes on like this.

Okay, so we know that waste is a principle of Nature. I was standing with a forester friend of mine among fifty metre tall beech trees in a grove on one of the slopes of Siebengebirge, the Seven Hills of Bonn. The forest floor was littered with fallen leaves and tiny seedlings, each with a stem and a pair of leaves. Some of those seedlings were already in the process of turning into saplings. My forester friend asked me if I knew what kind of plants they were, which I did not. Those seedlings were all children of the mighty beech trees whose smooth, elephantine trunks rose like waterspouts all around us – my friend said, cocking his hat. Each of those seedlings carried the potential of turning into a majestic arboreal monolith, given a hundred years or so. As for the rest of the seedlings, they’d go waste, or most of them. The rest would make up the beech grove of the future.

I once saw a whole bunch of apple-cheeked tiny tots spilling out of a kindergarten and thought, there goes the humankind of the future. I greet every baby in a pram as a future taxpayer and hence a future contributor to my pension fund. That baby is my future reader as well as Shakespeare’s. Without that baby or such babies Michelangelo’s David is an oblong, funnily carved piece of stone with nobody to look at it.

Waste? I’m absolutely convinced that unless there are millions of us trying to paint and failing miserably, you do not get a Monet or a van Gogh. Do we really want to know how many John Lennons and Paul McCartneys ended up as garbage collectors in the Liverpool of the ’sixties? Genius is like a human lottery, a human jackpot, with the whole of the human race as the winner. Think of the number of suckers who go empty for someone to win the lottery. And yet there wouldn’t be any lottery winners without us suckers. In every race and every competition, think of the number of losers for that one winner – and I say ‘one’ advisedly. I was the runner-up, a pretty girl told me once, while marrying a handsome friend of mine.

So have I wasted my time, worse, have I wasted my life in trying to – ahem – ‘write’? It was Bulwer-Lytton of The Last Days of Pompeii fame who coined the phrase The Great Unwashed for the lower classes. I belong to The Great Unpublished of the lower middle classes. There’s millions of us ‘writers becoming’, would-be writers, striving like those beech seedlings for their bit of space, air & sunlight.

Until Time with a capital ‘T’ relegates us to that very special limbo reserved for writers who-have-never-been.

Have we never really been? I seem to remember amateur singers pumping away at their harmonia and trying to sing Tagore songs who’d have made Tagore wish he had stuck to writing poetry. I have known poetasters whose rhymes can cause nausea as well as vomiting, though there’s no statutory warning on the back flap. I know painters I wouldn’t trust to do the bathroom door. Yet all of us are convinced that we are creative, that we are doing good work, even great work.

And then I met the Almighty and was about to congratulate Him on Creation when He said: ‘I botched it up so badly that the debris is still flying around after 14 billion years. But there’s this little planet that I made, a perfect little thing with fire inside and water outside, and a bit of green as well, with everything from ants to featherless bipeds crawling around on it – this was after somebody threw a meteor and broke all my dinosaurs. It’s still a cosy little nook compared to the mayhem that’s going on in the rest of the universe, that’s why I call it…’

‘Tell me some other time,’ I excused myself. The Almighty might have all Eternity, I didn’t.

‘Or you can read about it in my –’


‘No, in my blog, I was going to say.’


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