I’ve written here recently about what seems to me the too-frequent use, in all sorts of American conversations these days, of the word “exhausting” and “exhausted.”
“The whole time I’ve been around,” I wrote in April, “I’ve never heard so many people describe life as ‘exhausting.’ In fact, up until a few years ago, I don’t think I ever heard anyone describe life as ‘exhausting.'”
Lately I’ve been training for a race called the David Murray Invitational Writers-Only Chicago 10-Mile Ramble and Bloody Mary Brunch. I invented this race, and invited a half-dozen writers to join me in it, because my usual running routine wasn’t cutting it and I needed motivation to run harder and longer.
So, I’ve been exhausted. A lot. With a lot of time to lament it, on eight-, nine-, 10-mile practice runs that I used to think nothing of but that are now often plagued by blisters, tight hamstrings or what we euphemistically call, “stomach issues.”
Why am I exhausted? Cuz I’m older, no doubt. Cuz I’m fatter, no doubt. Cuz I’m softer on the inside too, though you’ll have to prove that in a court of law.
But surely not because the flat Chicago streets have gotten hilly, or the prairie wind is more frequently in my face.
No. It’s me.
A friend of mine—a contemporary—said one of the most honest things I’ve ever heard one day last year, after I explained to him the some of the ins and outs of a new psycho-social reality that I was learning about through a personal relationship. My pal had never, in his already infinitely complicated half-century one the planet, heard some of these terms or considered these realities.
“Oh my God,” he said, putting his head into his hands, “I am so fucking sick of this life!”
That was the middle of COVID and we were all depressed and overwhelmed and at the end of our rope—and exhausted.
But I burst out laughing at the truth of his reaction. Life throws a lot at us over the years and the decades and the quarter-centuries and the half-centuries we are here. And it accumulates. And however much we smarmily say we believe in “lifelong learning,” many of us tend to struggle to adopt or incorporate new ways of thinking as we get older.
I mean, when was the last time you did?
But our times are demanding a lot, and our generation is too young to shirk the work. We have too much responsibility and influence. And our wisdom is still sorely needed.
I think many people about my age are asking ourselves, if only half-consciously, if we really must master the newfangled and contradictory social issues and terminology and ideas and opinions and circumstances that strain our understanding, that bead on the brain and run off, that offend our sense of order, that fold back over on themselves like an Escher painting and generate bitter intellectual electrical smoke that gets in our aging eyes.
That seem to ask too goddamn much of us, at this point. That threaten to paralyze us—or worse: mute our once-powerful voices. That exhaust us.
Well, I’m trying to get in shape. Ran 10 a couple weeks ago. Had to walk a mile or two. Took a long time. Wasn’t much easier the next time. Didn’t have to walk though. Had to postpone the race for various reasons, and all the other middle-aged runners sounded relieved. Still training. Know I’m too old to make it ever look easy again. Also too old to care how it looks.
Still running, is the point. Still got to.
When my dad was 85 and dying of cancer, he and I were gaping at television one night. The old ad man paid as much attention to the commercials as to the show.
“David,” he asked wearily, “what is ‘Go Daddy’?”
“Doesn’t matter, Dad,” I answered, feeling a twinge of jealousy. “You do not need to know.”
You and me, though? We still need to know.