Ageing and the passage of time

In The Bell Jar published when Sylvia Plath was 29, she described time passing as the complex and overwhelming array of branches:

“I saw my life branching out before me like the green fig tree in the story. From the tip of every branch, like a fat purple fig, a wonderful future beckoned and wrinkled. One fig was a husband, and a happy home and children, and another fig was a famous poet and another fig was a brilliant professor, and another fig was Ee Gee, the amazing editor, and another fig was  Europe and Africa and South America, and another fig was Constantin and Socrates and Attila and a pack of other lovers with queer names and offbeat professions, and another fig was an Olympic lady crew champion, and beyond and above these figs were many more figs I couldn’t quite make out. I saw myself sitting in the crotch of this fig tree, starving to death, just because I couldn’t make up my mind which of the figs I would choose.”

I have noticed in therapy how often adolescents and those starting out in their careers and life are overwhelmed and paralysed by the multitude of options and choices. There is a huge concern to make the ‘right’ choice and there can be confusion in trying to decipher what they truly want to do and be, from what is expected. However, as we get older there is a sense of security that comes from having chosen a direction or path, but with every choice, with every turn chosen at a junction or cross roads, those other paths, doors and opportunities are closed. The slamming of doors with the passage of time was understood and articulated well by David Foster Wallace. At age 33 he wrote:

“Day to day I have to make all sorts of choices about what is good and important and fun, and then I have to live with the forfeiture of all the other options those choices foreclose. And I’m starting to see how as time gains momentum my choices will narrow and their foreclosures multiply exponentially until I arrive at some point on some branch of all life’s sumptuous branching complexity at which I am finally locked in and stuck on one path and time speeds me through stages of stasis and atrophy and decay until I go down for the third time, all struggle for naught, drowned by time”.

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