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This New Year, Try Being Grateful For Each New Day

“Rau main hai rakhsh-e Umr, kahaan dekhiyay thamay/Nay haath bag par hai na pa hai rakaab main”-Ghalib

(The steed of Life gallops along/No hand on its harness, nor foot in stirrup)

When Ghalib wrote these lines, it was meant to be a reference to the relentless march of Time; a dirge for the evanescence of life and how it often slips through our fingers without us even realizing it. A beautiful clip in a TV mini-series called ‘True Detective’ reminded me of it (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VpvsdVg2YVU).

In it, one of the characters laments on the passing his life and says “…when you realize that the good years came and went…there’s a feeling like life has slipped through your fingers…like the future’s behind you, like it’s always behind you…Infidelity is one kind of sin but my true failure was inattention, I realize that now”.

While people entering the afternoon of life, like myself, may be forgiven for thinking such morbid thoughts, it comes across as rather odd (and quite funny!) when one of my students, a young man or woman in their early twenties talks about ‘not having enough time’. I ‘stole’ the Ghalib verse from the Facebook status of a young student; a brilliant young woman on the verge of starting a medical career in the US, destined for great things I’m sure, like all brilliant young people determined to make a mark in the world, a ‘dent in the universe’ as Steve Jobs once said.

So when a young person like that says to me ‘I’m getting late, time is passing’, all I can do is laugh and remind them that it should be old horses like me who should be more worried about the passing of time; if for no other reason than that the creaks and pains in my body remind me of it every day.

And yet I suppose it’s never too early to wake up to the finitude of life, to understand and truly feel in your bones how limited your time on this earth often is; and how unpredictable! Having seen first-hand people in my own family decline and shrivel from the mythical, god-like people of my childhood to human beings to now frail, somewhat worn out elders (and having seen some of them succumb to disease and others to death), I can say confidently that I am now truly thankful for each day. In the film “Troy”, rich in psychological undertones, the Achilles character played by Brad Pitt says ‘I’ll tell you a secret, something they don’t teach you in your temples: the gods envy *us*; they envy us because we’re mortal, because any moment might be our last, everything is more beautiful because we’re doomed’.

And while this might, on the surface, sound depressing, if understood in the right way, it is the most life affirming message of all. Enjoy and live life to the fullest, live each moment as if it’s your last, because you really don’t know what the next moment, or tomorrow or next year will bring. This doesn’t mean giving in to your basest instincts or surrendering to ‘pleasures of the flesh (although one can be forgiven for doing that occasionally, especially on New Year’s Eve!).

But it does mean shedding, or at least trying to shed that most basic human instinct: to either wallow in the misery of the past or the worry of the future; What Faiz called ‘yaad-e maazi’ (remembrance of the past) and ‘dehshat-e farda’ (terror of the future) and just enjoy the present moment, no matter what or where it is.

Looked at in that way, perhaps the urgency of my young friends is understandable although I suspect they are driven less by the philosophical contemplation of life and more by the need that drives all young people: to see what lies ahead, to strive, to achieve. And that’s not necessarily a bad thing as long as it doesn’t drive one to distraction and take the focus off the journey. 

As for old warriors like me, our sentiments are best captured in the words of another memorable movie character immortalized by the one and only Sir Alec Guinness in the classic ‘Bridge on the River Kwai’ (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kM6uU9CWjAI) “It’s been a good life…I wouldn’t have had it any other way but there are times when suddenly you realize you’re nearer the end than the beginning, and you wonder…what the sum total of your life represents, what difference your being there at any time made to anything or if you made any difference at all…”.

Perhaps a good New Year’s resolution this year would be: I will try my very best to be thankful for each new day the next year brings and do my utmost to not look back a year from now with regret.

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Naya Daur