Tuesday, June 27, 2017

Shakespeare's eye on life

This week's Independent News & Media Irish regional newspapers' column.

Michael Commane
While stopped at traffic lights on my bicycle I spotted out of the corner of my eye on the other side of the road an elderly man cycling a fold-up bicycle.

My attention was caught for two reasons: one he was an elderly man and secondly he was cycling the Rolls Royce of fold-up bicycles, a Brompton. It folds-up really small and also, it is designed with little wheels, which allows you to wheel it about in its folded-up state.

For a few seconds I was marvelling at the man. He had cycled up a steep hill and it seemed no bother to him. At a glance I decided he must have been in his mid to late 70s.

Suddenly it dawned on me he may be a mere 10 years older than I.

I was home within two minutes and immediately googled Shakespeare's soliloquy in 'As You Like It'.

It was the play I did for what was then called the Intermediate Cert. And the famous soliloquy deals with the different stages in one's life.

I’m not at all sure what it could mean to a 15 or 16-year-old youth but reading it now 52 years later I can so easily identify with it.

“All the world’s a stage/And all the men and women merely players;/They have their exits and their entrances,/And one man in his time/plays many parts,/His acts being seven ages. At first the infant,/Mewling and puking in the nurse’s arms;/And then the whining schoolboy, with his satchel/And shining morning face, creeping like snail/Unwillingly to school.”

What fascinated me looking at that man on the bicycle was how we all manage to live in our own skins no matter what age we are or no matter what the situation or condition in which we happen to find ourselves.

In the sun of last week young people were frolicking about on beaches and in parks enjoying every moment of what they were doing. In so many ways there were no tomorrows for them. It’s exactly what they should be doing – enjoying life and making the best of it.

They were simply getting on with it. And even at that age there will be those who are visited with serious illness, appalling tragedies, and yet someway or somehow or other they too get on with their lives.

And that seems to be one of the extraordinary traits or characteristics of being human – we manage to survive and we get on with our lives.

The survivors of Grenfell Tower have found themselves with nothing. Many of them having fled from war and mayhem and are now again in such pain and agony. But they too will survive and get on with their lives.

I have a terrible habit of asking what is it all about but since getting the Travel Pass I seem to have become obsessed with wondering and questioning what this life of ours is all about.

Shakespeare finishes his soliloquy with the seventh and last stage: “Last scene of all,/That ends this strange eventful history,/Is second childishness and mere oblivion,/Sans teeth, sans eyes, sans taste, sans everything.”

I’m wondering where am I on the Shakespeare counter?

In the sun-drenched days of last week it makes great sense to ‘make the best of it’. Enjoy life to the full. Sometimes that's easier said than done.

On one of those sunny days last week I spent some time talking to a 95-year-old woman. She is in hospital sick but the smile on her face honestly invigorated me. I came away from our chat full of the joys of life.

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