In February 1959, I attended my first opera at Covent Garden. Not until the following day, did I realise I had been in the presence of history. The performance of Joan Sutherland as Lucia was held by the critics and public alike to be a sensation. A global superstar was born.
I enjoyed the performance, but at the age of 20, had nothing to compare it with, apart from a few records by Callas and Tebaldi. It was, after all, my first attendance at an opera.
More important to me was that I could let everybody know I had been there. I could then associate myself with the emergence of a world famous celebrity and pass myself off as a culture vulture. I was to bring such experiences into conversation at every opportunity for the next 45 years.
I was an unashamed snob in my 20’s and 30’s. I look back in horror and remorse on the behaviour and attitudes I felt I had to adopt to maintain my ‘position’ in this exclusive society – that of the English middle-class.
Until I reached my 60’s, the things which mattered to me were my properties, possessions and experiences; the extensive business and holiday travel, the great restaurants, the BMWs, the social life in several European countries and my furniture, books and music.
I enjoyed fine Burgundies, Punch cigars and the National Film Theatre. More significantly, it mattered to me that as many friends, acquaintances and strangers as possible knew all about my possessions, ‘achievements,’ experiences and self-sought ‘prestige.’ But was I really happy?
Without fully realising it, so many of us live under stress where we are never satisfied, but always want more. We look at those ‘ahead of us’ with envy. Likewise we live in fear that those ‘behind us’ may overtake us. We hate being wrong about anything. There seems to be a general lack of awareness of the shallowness of this kind of existence.
What surprises me is that in my experience, so many of us in our 60’s and beyond have not yet recognised the futility of the pursuit of ‘acceptance.’ Either we have not examined the potential in ourselves or we simply have no desire to escape our ‘comfort zone’ in search of a more meaningful and less stressful life. What we feel as material security is in fact entrapment in a perpetual rat-race.
In our 60’s many of us sense a change as we begin to ask ourselves: Where do we come from? Why are we here? Where are we going? As we become more appreciative of nature and our surroundings, we seek inner peace and space, and reflect more on the challenges facing the survival of our planet and the behaviour of its resident humanity.
Assuming we have consequently attained the inner confidence which should result, we cease worrying about how we are seen and evaluated by others.