[I’ll be away from home and computer for a while, visiting Bill’s new baby granddaughter in Los Angeles. I should be back online with new stuff no later than February 16, and maybe earlier. In the meanwhile, I ‘m re-running some earlier pieces that newcomers to the blog may not have seen, and others may not mind seeing again. This one was the second piece I posted, right after “Why Blog About Getting Old?,” which is now a Page.]
[Re-blogged from November 15, 2013]
Anyway. When I showed Bill the first post of this new blog about getting old — now also a page, if you missed it — he wanted a piece of the action. (He qualifies; he’s three and a half years older than me.) He ran — well, walked — to find a selection of excerpts from the last diaries of Bernard Berenson, the renowned art historian. The excerpts were (you guessed it) about getting old.
“Here,” he said. ”You need quotations.” Bill didn’t think my first husband’s ashtray made the point of that first post (now a page) forcefully enough.
I know all about citing to authorities. During part of my past life, I was a lawyer and, among other things, wrote briefs for a living. Show me a brief without copious citation to authorities, and I’ll show you a lawyer who loses the case, and the client.
However I am now retired from my earned income stream and no longer need to convince anyone of anything quite so persuasively. But I do try to please Bill whenever I can, just as he tries to please me (most of the time). So I looked at what Berenson had to say. Here he is on August 13, 1956, when he was ninety-one:
“I still want to learn. I still want to understand, and I still want to write. How shall I get rid of these lusts? Physical incompetence only will emancipate me from their slavery, but what kind of freedom will it be? The antechamber of the End. But how I still enjoy sunlight, nature and stormy skies, and sunsets, and trees and flowers, and animals including well-shaped humans, and reading, and conversing!”
Moving along past the lusts and well-shaped humans, we come to him again on December 20, 1957, when he was ninety-two:
“I ought to consult an aurist, a urologist, an eye specialist, an up-to-date dentist, etc., in fact spend most of my time and money in an effort to prolong life. Why? Living at my age and with all my disabilities is anything but a picnic. So why cling to it? Partly out of mere animal instinct. Partly out of curiosity about tomorrow and the day after tomorrow. Partly because I am not resigned to giving up, and still am eager to achieve….”
He clung for two more years.
But clinging is not exactly my style, unless we’re talking about Eleanor Roosevelt’s style of clinging:
“When you get to the end of your rope, tie a knot in it and hang on.”
So if we’re doing quotations, I much prefer Henry James. As in The Ambassadors, Book 5, Chapter 2:
“Live all you can: it’s a mistake not to. It doesn’t matter what you do in particular, so long as you have had your life….The right time is any time that one is still so lucky as to have….Live!”
Which is not entirely dissimilar to the sentiments of poor Dylan Thomas, who never had the chance to get old, having destroyed himself early on with drink and despair:
“Do not go gentle into that good night,
Old age should burn and rave at close of day:
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.”
Or, if that’s too passionate for you, consider Oliver Sacks, younger than me, who wrote in The New York Times on July 6, 2013, on the occasion of his 80th birthday:
“I do not think of old age as an ever grimmer time that one must somehow endure and make the best of, but as a time of leisure and freedom, freed from the factitious urgencies of earlier days, free to explore whatever I wish, and to bind the thoughts and feelings of a lifetime together. I am looking forward to being 80.”
Free to bind the thoughts and feelings of a lifetime together. That sounds about right. Thank you, Oliver (if I may).
Thank you, Bill, for your helpful suggestion.
And now that we’re all squared away with the quotations, one more thank you — to Alexander Portnoy (and Philip Roth) for lending me the end of this post:
“So….Now vee may perhaps to begin. Yes?“
[Note on why I call this my “new” blog: Not so long ago, I had another blog called “Learning to Blog” — for test-driving this blogging business. Although it’s now my “old” blog, you’re cordially invited to visit: http://www.ninamishkin.wordpress.com ]