Sitting next to my 86-year-old ailing grandfather, I can’t help but think about the ephemeral nature of life. There’s an oxygen cylinder next to his bed and a urinary catheter attached to his penis. He is fighting hard for his life and the bright cream coloured paint on the wall (which exudes happiness) feels inappropriate.
I still remember clearly how excited I used to get as a kid when my grandfather would bring chalk pieces (he was a professor) from his college. I’d look forward to his return and start jumping around the room when he finally came. Today, his memory fails him and he struggles to walk without support. Did he plan to spend his days like this? Certainly not. He built houses, educated his children and saved up enough money to survive comfortably in old age. In short, he did all the right things that a person is supposed to do. And yet, at the moment, his body is in pain and his mind is deteriorating.
My grandfather has lived for approximately 8500 weeks already – but how many of those were spent being happy? His awards, his children, his bank balance and his properties – none of it can give him a good night’s sleep now.
“What’s the point of living life if we are all going to end up like this?” I ask my elder cousin Rahul who has studied philosophy. “Why does the sun rise when it knows it has to set? We’re all here for a certain amount of time. We must make the most of it,” he tells me and puts my mind to ease. At night, I find it difficult to sleep. I keep twisting and turning in my bed until I finally decide that I’ve had enough.
I open my laptop and disappear into a deep rabbit-hole where I read about evolution, love, peace and the purpose of life. A quote from Viktor Frankl’s Man’s Search For Meaning strikes me as particularly evocative. “For the first time in my life I saw the truth as it is set into song by so many poets, proclaimed as the final wisdom by so many thinkers. The truth - that Love is the ultimate and highest goal to which man can aspire. Then I grasped the meaning of the greatest secret that human poetry and human thought and belief have to impart:
"The salvation of man is through love and in love,” he had written.
I go into a zone where I think long and hard about Shweta, that girl who had slipped away. We had a great relationship for three years, but towards the end, we were running out of conversations and running into arguments. Maybe if I had practiced meditation then, maybe if I knew how to keep my cool then, maybe if I spoke kinder words then – life would have been more meaningful. An argument about money was no way to end a relationship and I felt like I would have to live with regret for the rest of my life.
I get up from my laptop and go for a walk on my grandfather’s terrace. The cool wind sweeps my face and I tell myself to practice gratitude. I still had my mother – the closest person in my life with whom I had many years to live. If she lived till 80, I had approximately 2600 weeks left with her. “I should make the most of it and take care of her when her health starts declining. That’s a valid purpose to have,” I tell myself.
After coming back to my laptop, I start to calculate everything. At 30, I had already lived 1565 weeks of my life. For 12 years (or around 620 weeks) out of that, I was a kid. I didn’t have responsibilities like I have now and I was free to explore the world as much as I wanted. I devoured books, I enjoyed movies and I loved sports in this period. Yes, if there was a time machine which helped me go back in time, I would change some things. But it was nothing but wishful thinking. My teenage years – almost 470 weeks – were my worst. I started lagging behind in studies, picked up habits that didn’t serve me well and decided to live each day as it came without thinking much about my future. I also went through my first real heartbreak – an experience that shook me to my core. I felt like I would have the world at my feet with her but it was not to be.
I check myself and get back to my laptop. It’s 2 AM in the night and I am still not sleepy. I feel the urgent need to plan out my life so that I don’t live with any more regrets. I call up my friend Rishi, who would probably be the only one awake right now.
“What should I do in the short-term and what should I do in the long term?” I ask him somewhere in the middle of our conversation.
“The real answer to what should we do with our lives is complicated. Because despite our best laid plans, life can throw curveballs at us. We need to be prepared for everything and just go with the flow. As Robert Frost said, ‘In three words I can sum up everything I’ve learned about life: it goes on.’ I agree with him 100 per cent,” Ashish says. Listening to him calms my anxiety a little bit and I finally have the desire to hit the bed. Tomorrow would be a new day to appreciate the sun, a new day to love my relatives, a new day to pray for my grandfather and a new day to do my work sincerely.
If I lived till 80 years and retired at 60, I would have approximately 1050 weeks to do whatever I want. It wouldn’t be a long vacation though because my health will start declining. Instead of spending the next 1565 weeks being obsessed about that time, I should enjoy the present more often.
With this thought, I close my eyes and drift off to sleep.
Disclaimer: This is a work of fiction. Any resemblance to any person living or dead is purely coincidental.