On the many occasions that I bemoan the fact that we all have to give up our youth someday in exchange for grey hair and weary bones, I console myself with the thought that old age is preferable to its only other alternative-dying young.
On the surface there might be nothing desirable about dying young-I for one do not want to die ever- but there are situations where it may not be the absolute worst thing. For some people, it is better to die young than to live out old age in ignominy, feebleness and complete dependence on others.
Dying in one’s prime also immortalises a person’s legacy before the person has a chance to tarnish it or before the person fades out into irrelevance and is forgotten.Many people achieve a lot and then manage to live long enough to ruin these achievements. Life is so fickle; one day you are the most celebrated sportsperson/artist in the world; the next day nobody but the IRS remembers your name. A person who has died in the middle of a standing ovation never has to worry about becoming a has-been.
Thinking of this made me remember one of the first poems I was introduced to in literature class: To An Athlete Dying Young by A.E Housman. The poem is about an athlete who died when the ovation was loudest. It is a beautiful poem and it so aptly describes what it is I am trying to say.
To an athlete dying young
The time you won your town the race
We chaired you through the marketplace
Man and boy stood cheering by,
and home we brought you shoulder high
Today the road all the runners come
Shoulder-high we bring you home,
and set you at your threshold down
Townsman of a stiller town
Smart lad to slip betimes away
From fields where glory does not stay
And early though the laurel grows
It withers quicker than the rose
Eyes the shady night has shut
Cannot see the record cut
And silence sounds no worse than cheers
After earth has stopped the ears.
Now you will not swell the rout
Of lads that wore their honours out,
Runners whom renown outran
And the name died before the man
So set, before its echoes fade
The fleet foot on the sill of shade
And hold to the low lintel up
The still-defended challenge-cup
And round that early laurelled head
Will flock to gaze the strengthless dead
And find unwithered on its curls
The garland briefer than a girls.