Josna Rege

230. Enjoy Yourself (It’s Later than You Think)

In 1970s, 1980s, 1990s, 2010s, Britain, Childhood, Family, history, India, Inter/Transnational, Music, Nature, seasons, United States, writing on October 27, 2013 at 9:52 am
Traditional Diyas, photo: Dilshad Ali

Traditional Diyas (photo: Dilshad Ali)

It’s late October, and here in the northern hemisphere, with darkness encroaching on the days, we badly need to celebrate the festival of lights. Next week Diwali will be here, and so will the turning back of the clocks, to give us another usable hour of daylight. It’s just gone seven as I write, and only in the last quarter of an hour has the sky begun to lighten, with streaks of pale pink and still-paler yellow suffusing its slate-grey canvas at the eastern horizon. Even after sunrise (not until 7:17 today), it looks as if it’s going to be a dark day.

Sunday morning, a precious time to lie in, but I snapped awake at 6:48 am, as if I had an appointment on which my life depended. The same thing happened on Saturday morning, but earlier still, although this weekend I had intended to catch up on badly-needed sleep. Once awake, I knew that there was no chance whatsoever (no channa, as we used to say as schoolchildren) of simply burrowing deeper into the bedcovers and sinking back into delicious sleep for another hour or two, so there was no point in even trying.

I recognize this feeling: no time to lose, things to do, things long overdue.  As a junior professor, when everything depended on that book manuscript being completed, I awoke to it just about every morning. Occasionally, very occasionally, there was a split second of undisturbed mental ease before I would remember: it’s late, and getting later.

As a high-school student, required to be in school at some unearthly hour completely at odds with my teenage body clock, I would dimly hear my mother’s morning voice filtering through the warm jumble of bedclothes and thought I heard myself giving a kind of grunt in reply. One wintry morning, I remember, I thought that I would get dressed under the covers to give myself the maximum amount of time in bed. Somehow I managed it, making a tent as one does in childhood. Once I was all dressed, I decided to reward myself with just a few more minutes of sleep.  The next thing I knew, Mum was at my bedside again, gently shaking me: I had gone right back to sleep the first time, and dreamed it all!

More Specials (from 2tonecollection.com)

More Specials (from 2tonecollection.com)

Back in the late 1970s, in the era of Punk Rock, the British Two Tone band The Specials did a terrific version of the 1940s hit, Enjoy Yourself (It’s Later than You Think). The chorus goes,

Enjoy yourself, it’s later than you think
Enjoy yourself, while you’re still in the pink
The years go by, as quickly as a wink
Enjoy yourself, enjoy yourself, it’s later than you think

The Specials sang it as a warning, a wake-up call. Even as they sang “Enjoy Yourself,” they enjoined the disenchanted, unemployed youth of the Thatcher era to:

Get wisdom, knowledge and understanding
These three were given free by the maker
Go to school, learn the rules, don’t be no faker
It’s not wise for you to be a footstool.

At a wedding reception a couple of years later, I was shocked when the dreadful wedding band performed a horribly souped-up, schmaltzyGuy Lombardo version of “Enjoy Yourself.” Eat, drink, and be merry, for tomorrow you die: what a morbid message on such a joyful occasion!

But sitting up in bed this darkling (I love this word; shades of Matthew Arnold, and of course, Tolkien, who must use it dozens of times throughout The Lord of the Rings) October day, something else dawns on me. Perhaps all these years I’ve been hearing only part of the message of this rather extraordinary song. Yes, it says, Young people, don’t waste away your short lives in mediocrity, in the rat race for security in your old age, only to find, when—if—you get there, that you’re no longer capable of enjoying all that you worked for. Yes, it says, now is the time to get the most out of life. But it also says, don’t let the burdens of life make it impossible to live in the present. Make the most of your youth and vitality now.

There’s no point in regretting the untold hours spent weighed down by the pressures of duties and deadlines when I could have done the work in half the time without all the angst, and had so much more time to spend with my loved ones. As a graduate student, my dissertation director once told me that for some people it never got easier, they agonized all the way through their writing process, and I simply had to accept that I was one of those people. Angst is not just anxiety, but also the persistent hope, despite all odds, of overcoming the obstacles of life. These are best faced with a spring in your step and a song in your heart. Thanks to the Specials, who, along with bands like the Beat and the Clash, danced and sang us through those long, dark Reagan-Thatcher years, and who remind us that, in fact, there’s no turning back the clocks.

CODA: It’s 9 am and sunshine is now streaming through the window. Looking out, I see that the clouds are increasingly giving way to a brilliant blue. Time to start this beautiful day.

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  1. One way to re-discover that precious “now” attitude for living fully is to spend a week with your 5-year old granddaughter. Having just done that, I am filled with thankfulness and delight – we will never regret “Lily’s week”.

    It was worth it in every way! I love being a “Namma”!

    • Ah, such joy in living–it’s catching, even over the internet! Thank you for sharing the lovely photographs of the three of you during dear Lily’s visit. Exhausted though you might have been by the end of it, you must have enjoyed every moment–and I can see by the photos that she did, too! x J

  2. I like the earlier daylight but not the earlier dark in the evening.

    • Yes, those long summer evenings are glorious. I remember as a teenager in England, how gloomy one felt having to get up for school in the dark and the dark already closing in again by the end of the schoolday. I’m slow in the mornings, always have been; bad habit I continually vow to change, especially one those infrequent occasions when I go for a walk at sunrise and catch the beauty of that first light.

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