Even though I have attained the age by which a proportion of men retire and begin to ease themselves into old age (though, in fact, my state pension cannot be claimed for a few more years), I am all the same hounded by that deep and powerful impression that has always been near the front of my conscious mind since the age of nineteen, that my life’s mission will soon commence – whatever it is – and that in this new condition, I will feel differently about things, value things, value myself, differently. For over four decades I have sensed that my life’s mission – whatever it is – is about to begin, and I so very much want it to begin. Of course, I have already discovered, and completed my other mission, to care for my sick wife for the entire duration of her adult life, and I know that many people will look askance and think, but that was his life’s mission, surely? It was a mission, yet it never at any point attained the status of the mission. That unknown mission, so my gut feeling tells me, is yet to begin. I accept now, after all this time, that it may never begin. That sense of hoping for, needing, a beginning, is just that, an always-to-be-unfulfilled sense of not being where I want to be. But, dear goodness, it is such a strong feeling, so dominating my waking experience, it is as if everything is muted and suppressed, further away than it should be, not properly experienced at all.
On this new mission that will not present itself, I am at least content, perhaps even confident, in some measure fulfilled or wholly fulfilled, if not objectively valued myself by the wider world, at least finding value myself in what I am doing, that this thing, or rather its fruits, will be of use to others, something that will give my life a purpose that will lift it above the purposeless that so weighs on me at the moment, and has weighed on me since childhood.
But what a strange circumstance this is! I may choose from so much, read anything – in English – from the world’s massive, massive repository of books and articles, perhaps even find a way of learning new skills, earning new qualifications (if I could have my life over again, I would put archaeology near the top of my list). Yet I do not know how to choose from this bewildering array of alternatives. I think someone in my predicament would be better off in the pre-Roman Iron Age, where my choices for what to do in life could be counted on the fingers (not including the thumb) of one hand: become a farmer, an artisan, a blacksmith, or a healer. But the world has grown complicated, and I do not know what it wants of me. Time is running short, and I suspect, with a sense of dread, that this unknown path I cannot find, so cannot tread, will elude me all my days.