It is Christmas Eve. Yet how can that be? There is no crisp snow here. No Christmas tree. No presents to be seen. No Santa Claus or Yule Log. There are no carollers at the door... What mischievous charade is this?
I am sitting quietly in our garden as the sun sets, sipping iced peach tea and watching the tropical palms sway gently in the cool evening breeze. I hear bird song, the buzz of insects and the murmur of our neighbours. Nico is exploring - picking up bits and pieces that catch his attention and examining them intently. He has such an eye for detail. First a pebble. Now a tiny shrivelled leaf. He turns and beams as a butterfly brushes past his nose before vanishing into the lush foliage.
Like all young children this boy is a gift from God – a miracle life force, at once innocent yet all-knowing. His unbounded energy prompts comparisons with my other progeny (particularly Dylan when she played tennis with a flair few others could emulate) triggering memories that, though relative strangers these days, are still outrageously vibrant and intact…
But how quickly life passes. It is hardly credible that another year is rushing towards its apotheosis. A few moments ago, or so it seems, I was playing Bach on the village organ, marching to Aldermaston to protest the stockpiling of nuclear weapons, writing music under the vines of a farmhouse in Spilamberto, lecturing at Dartington, dashing to the hospital in the middle of the night for the birth of my first son, Ben. And then? A kaleidoscopic helter skelter of experiences as my life unfolded in ways that were overflowing with bittersweet, yet ultimately enthralling, adventures.
This year I will celebrate my 68th birthday and, as the serenity of my inner life intensifies, ordinary routines, once taken for granted, demand just a little more perseverance. Yet the external almanac of imposed seconds, minutes and hours now start to yield liminal patterns of a clarity and wholeness I had not previously perceived. Perhaps this is what we mean by the wisdom of the elders.
To be sure, I am now better able to observe and respond to small changes in my physical constitution. The tinnitus in my ears occasionally drowns out whispered words or subtle sighs; thus silence is louder than before. My wrists are weaker, the capacity to unscrew lids from jars, for example, is ridiculously diminished. Minor aches that would have hardly been apparent just a few years ago now hang around, as if anticipating some kind of exaggerated response if they can only persist. Glancing in the mirror is invariably startling – particularly as my mind insists this image of an elderly man cannot possibly be an authentic reflection.
But along with the minutiae of changing physical circumstances come unexpected and entirely delightful companions. Contemplation without any preconceived material purpose. A yearning for stillness. A deeper acceptance of certain universal truths. A capacity to bask longer in the sheer wonder and beauty and lightness of what it means to be human and alive.
There was a time when the impetuousness and arrogance of my youth prevented more noble intentions. In stumbling towards their own uniqueness, in testing the limits of their prowess, and in exploring their relationship to the rest of the human family, young people inevitably position themselves at the axis of their circumscribed insentience. For me, academic success, albeit tempered by an unrelenting discourse with petty distractions and selfish concerns, seemed so incredibly important. Later, arcanely romantic notions of the artist working apart from society appealed to the hermit in me. Gradually though, as I learned to put ego and hubris aside, I discovered within myself a profound empathy for others - an affiliation with their struggles and aspirations - I had not realised were a part of my own sense of identity.
Today, grand schemes that have the potential to benefit humanity matter to me most. Trivia, political game playing, brutality of all kinds, and petty mindedness, can be treated with the contempt they deserve.
There is still much to do. I have no time for regrets. Even less for unkind words, envy, resentment or bitterness. But gratitude and appreciation. Now these are different. Without exception, every single person I have met has enriched my life’s journey in ways that were special and often sublime. Each individual helped make it the extraordinary experience I vowed it would be.
I love this world and my life with a passion. Whatever lies ahead I am determined to embrace with all the open-hearted mindfulness I can muster. At the breaking of each new day, I look forward to the path ahead with uninhibited joy and enthusiasm.
Perhaps that, too, betrays a certain kind of wisdom...