What age do you think we should consider as the 'prime of life' these days? I think that without question, this age - whatever it is - is now a higher number than it ever was during previous eras of human history.
Back in prehistoric times life itself was so short and violent that the very concept really didn't have much meaning, but once humans settled down into a more civilized existence, and living patterns became somewhat more predictable and steady, the idea of being 'in one's prime' must have come into being.
For someone in a specialized field like athletics, it is relatively easy to point at a certain number, and think of it as that person's prime. Maybe those people are 'over the hill' at age 25! For the rest of us though, we can perhaps shoot a bit higher. We obviously would exclude both our childhood and our dotage from the calculation, but that leaves a very long span in the middle. Were you in your prime at 25? 35? 45? ... When does the 'top' of the arc of your life come?
I was pushed to think about this by something that happened to me this week. I spent a day over at Sadako's place, working together with her to lay a small patio in her garden. She has quite a nice garden space around her house, and although she herself works very hard maintaining it, she does use the assistance of a professional gardener a couple of times a year. This man comes over, listens to her requests and suggestions, and then sets to work, usually taking around two days to complete the job. He does the main work you expect of an experienced Japanese gardener, trimming and maintaining the trees, but also works at her direction, perhaps moving some paving stones to a new location, maintaining some of the larger garden planters, even moving trees to different locations at the other side of the garden.
When I visit the garden after one of his visits, and listen to her recitation of what he did over the preceding two days, I am usually astonished, because if I had to do the same amount of work (even assuming I knew what to do, which I don't), it would take me a week, not a couple of days. And what is worse, is that her gardener is a very elderly man, actually well beyond normal retirement age!
How embarrassing is that - to be outworked and shown up so badly by somebody more than 20 years my senior! The situation is even worse than that; after our day of patio work, I felt quite pleased with myself, but the next morning I could barely move! I couldn't even lift my arms above shoulder level! I could just imagine what that gardener would say if he could have seen me ... "Young fellas these days ... no stamina!"
Now of course there is a reason for this; I had spent the day using unfamiliar muscles, bending over and lifting quite heavy stones. This is not something I do often, so it is quite natural that I felt the effects later. But when I think of that elderly gardener, who does this sort of thing day in and day out, I'm not so ready to make excuses for myself. Surely at only age 54, I should be able to do a normal day's manual labour without collapsing the next day!
I wonder if that gardener is perhaps interesting in printmaking? If I were to invite him over for a day's work at the printing bench, working on a heavy 'tsubushi' printing, it would be interesting to call him up the next day and ask ... "How are you feeling?"Story #34, August 20 2006