“You know how advice is: you only want it if it agrees with what you wanted to do anyways.” – John Steinbeck
There are three stages of flabbiness in life. Each is more restricting and stifling than the one before. They creep insidiously over me like vines until it takes one hell of a struggle to escape their clutches. If ever I feel the saggy symptoms snuffling up on my life then I know it is time to hit the road.
The first stage of flabbiness, and the easiest to fix, is physical flabbiness. It begins when busy schedules, dark winter days and eating too much win the devil’s footrace against the part of me that knows that exercise isn’t a waste of time but actually makes me more efficient, alert and happy. Despite knowing this I am still at times sufficiently idle to let my standards slip and my fitness slide away. Fitness is like chasing a shoal of fish: difficult to master and get on top of, easy to lose.
If I don’t go running for a few days, I feel cooped up and ratty. Leave it a few more and the habit is broken. I know I need to run. I want to run. But I just can’t be bothered. Flabbiness has begun to set in, slowly, invasively, like cataracts. Before I know it I am easing out my belt buckle and blaming my sloth on the effects of age.
The second stage is mental flabbiness. Give up exercising, stop forcing myself out the front door for a run and inevitably my mind starts to sag too. I used to feel alert and inquisitive. I read lots of books. But one evening I came home tired. Flopping down onto the sofa I reached for the television remote instead. Suddenly I am gripped by light entertainment. I realise how pleasant life can be if I stop thinking about it. It is much simpler to exist than to live. I’ve got a dishwasher and a coffee percolator and I drink at home most nights with the TV on. I sit slumped in front of the telly flicking round the channels until I have frittered away enough of my life that it’s time to go to bed.
Finally, if I start forgetting any of these things, then I know I am on a slippery slope towards the third, terminal, stage of flabbiness: moral flabbiness!
Each day I am one day closer to my death. No matter how aware I am of this, it is still sometimes difficult to believe in my own death.
I don’t know when I will die, so putting things off to an indeterminate date in an un-guaranteed future is pretty daft.
I am happiest when I have a sense of purpose.
There are so many places I would still like to see, so many interesting people to meet, so much to do. And there is so little time. Before I know it I’ll be dead and what a bloody waste that will be if I’ve just been arsing around.
By the time I have succumbed to the debilitating onslaught of physical and mental flabbiness I am already well on the primrose path to moral flabbiness. Not only have I conceded my physical health and settled for candyfloss in place of a brain, I have accepted that this is good enough for my life. I have become comfortably numb. I have decided that Friends repeats and a Chinese takeaway are sufficient return for the privilege of being born, healthy and intelligent enough, in one of the richest, most free countries on the planet. I have a passport to explore the world. I will always be able to find some sort of work. I will never starve to death. It’s hard really for me to come up with any decent excuses. The choice is all mine.
Life is too brief and too rich to tiptoe through half-heartedly, rather than galloping at it with whooping excitement and ambition. And so I explode in rage just in time. It’s time to go prowling in the wilderness. It is time to live violently again. It is time to sort my life out. This can be done in two ways. I either jump in the nearest cold river for a bracing swim, or I plan a trip, set a start date and, come what may, begin.
This is an extract from my book There Are Other Rivers. I’ll post the next chapter here at the same time tomorrow evening.
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