The Curious Case of Benjamin Button is a 2008 Hollywood film with the aggressive Brad Pitt in the lead role, which is based on the fantasy of a man who is born very old and in the course of his life systematically gets younger and finally, as a baby, confuses the temporary with the eternal.
It’s a sad story, not least because it takes the viewer through the brain training of unexpected implications of such a life, implications that one would not take into account in a quick consideration of such a life. Ultimately, this is not a desirable state of affairs. Even so, this does not prevent even those who have seen the film from embarking on the practical pursuit of a touch of Benjamin Buttonism.
Our present-day value systems constantly compel us to make ever greater efforts to roll back the years. We judge people accordingly – knowingly and unknowingly – and are aware that we ourselves are judged accordingly. We try our best to meet the general standards and even to exceed them.
This is especially a phenomenon among the more affluent class – people who are engaged in a daily struggle for survival, do not have much time for tinkering with the latest rejuvenation techniques. There are also personal characteristics that play into it: the varying tendency to vanity of different people, the complacency, self-pride, culture and so on.
In short, aging has, as far as we know, always been a generally speaking enemy of man. Because our survival urge is practically embodied in our consistent avoidance of death. Regardless of our fear of death, our avoidance of it is a natural disposition. And in that I see no shame – life is good, death is uncertain, and the way the kick-bellied farmer comes knocking is in most cases not attractive, insofar as it so often involves violence, convulsions, pain, wasting away and deprivation accompanied.
However, I do not want to use the naturalness, even sense, of rejuvenation to speak well of the fight against aging without reservation. The reality is that it is strewn with physical and moral traps that can catch the unsuspecting, to ultimately achieve the exact opposite, namely the shortening of life span.
The general Western standards of beauty are primarily a rejuvenation culture backed by the modern imitation of youth, including the most primitive biological fertility signaling. Every now and then there is another bit of news about the danger of heavy metals in lipstick and other make-up, or complications with breast implants, or studies that show that such and such a diet is actually not healthy at all, and so on.
And no matter how hard we try, we make mistakes in our pursuit of youth and/or its appearance. The most ancient potions, such as moderate exercise, sunshine, less stress and a love for the world and its people, remain the irrefutable stalwarts.
Why I sit and think about such things at 09:00 on a Wednesday morning after the second coffee, has to do with the following:
In many respects, I have led my life a little along the lines of Benjamin Button. Was at the very back of the development level my entire school career. Still looked like a primary school child in the army. Still playing a schoolboy television role at 28 (and stopped not because I was visibly getting too old, but because I then started working mostly overseas in the music industry).
I could still walk around in miniskirts like a young lady into my mid thirties. Later, at nearly 50, I would marry for the first time and have children. I am still anxiously waiting for that first chest hair and rejoice in the systematic appearance of the first silver in my hair. And, true to the Button Syndrome, I equate my fatherhood with the luxury of retirement resulting in 24-hour present parenting.
It’s not a life path that I would specifically recommend – it has pros and cons either way. That’s just how it is. But this morning the thought was brought to the fore by my conversation with my best friend, confidant and soul mate, my wife.
We talked about our oldest, the emotional challenges the arrival of her younger sister presents for her and how that affects our handling of her. She will sometimes very directly grab the concept by the collar by saying bluntly during one of her nagging tirades: “I want attention! You must pay attention to me!”. Just like that, from a three-year-old’s mouth.
And then my wife and I came to the realization (if it’s not a word, it should be one!) that we will never be as close to our child as we are today. This is a consistent truth. Every single day she moves further away from us, as her independence increases, as she fills her own shoes, forms her own ideas, cultivates her own interests. She will eventually make friends that she would rather be with than with us. Then maybe she will find a husband, give birth to children, and with every moment of it develop further and further from us.
“Further” does not have to mean “far”, but it is relatively less close than yesterday. Now we can grab and hold her at any time. She is always in our immediate space. We can talk to her when we want, play with her when we want, pet her to our heart’s content.
She will never be closer to us than today.
Time is, happily, a powerful, lingering, compelling inevitability that we can never tame. And while we are stuck in yesterday or searching for tomorrow, the highest value of time, the present, now, is speeding past us at the staggering speed of 60 seconds per minute. And then the best time passer isn’t makeup, plastic tits, green juice or fifty push-ups.
Then, now, the best time-keeper is a silent embrace, eyes closed as if in eternal prayer, with the heart and the body and the mind still, frozen and inescapably focused in this moment with the child in your arms.