TELLING IT LIKE IT IS ABOUT SCALIA

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Illustration by Tom Bachtell for The New Yorker, February 29, 2016

This week’s issue of The New Yorker‘s “Talk of the Town” section opens with a stunning comment on the passing of the late Justice Antonin Scalia by Jeffrey Toobin, a staff writer, frequent contributor and author of several books on legal issues.  It stuns in the clarity with which it sums up Scalia’s work on the United States Supreme Court. I have not yet read anything like it, and what Toobin writes needs to be said.

It’s all very well not to speak ill of the dead.  But there’s an important difference between not speaking ill and stating the facts.  Now that the time for obsequies and personal encomiums to the late Justice’s wit, love of opera and dedication to his job has passed, it’s time to state plainly what he tried to accomplish during his many years on our country’s highest bench and how nearly he succeeded.

When I was in law school, we used to joke in Constitutional Law classes that the Constitution is what the Supreme Court says it is.  Humorous, but true. With the passing of Justice Scalia, we’re at a hugely important tipping point for our country.  Whether or not our obstructionist Republican-majority Senate succeeds in blocking hearings on the President’s nomination for his replacement, it’s reasonably certain these obstructionist senators are fighting a losing battle.  Here’s Toobin on the subject. (I’ve omitted some of it, for which you’ll have to go to The New Yorker itself. But this is the gist.) He says it much better than I could.

 

LOOKING BACK

by

Jeffrey Toobin

Antonin Scalia, who died this month, after nearly three decades on the Supreme Court, devoted his professional life to making the United States a less fair, less tolerant, and less admirable democracy. Fortunately, he mostly failed. Belligerent with his colleagues, dismissive of his critics, nostalgic for a world where outsiders knew their place and stayed there, Scalia represents a perfect model for everything that President Obama should avoid in a successor. The great Justices of the Supreme Court have always looked forward; their words both anticipated and helped shape the nation that the United States was becoming. Chief Justice John Marshall read the new Constitution to allow for a vibrant and progressive federal government. Louis Brandeis understood the need for that government to regulate an industrializing economy. Earl Warren saw that segregation was poison in the modern world. Scalia, in contrast, looked backward.

His revulsion toward homosexuality, a touchstone of his world view, appeared straight out of his sheltered, nineteen-forties boyhood. When, in 2003, the Court ruled that gay people could no longer be thrown in prison for having consensual sex, Scalia dissented, and wrote, “Today’s opinion is the product of a Court, which is the product of a law-profession culture, that has largely signed on to the so-called homosexual agenda, by which I mean the agenda promoted by some homosexual activists directed at eliminating the moral opprobrium that has traditionally attached to homosexual conduct.” He went on, “Many Americans do not want persons who openly engage in homosexual conduct as partners in their business, as scoutmasters for their children, as teachers in their children’s schools, or as boarders in their home. They view this as protecting themselves and their families from a life style that they believe to be immoral and destructive.”

But it was in his jurisprudence that Scalia most self-consciously looked to the past. He pioneered “originalism,” a theory holding that the Constitution should be interpreted in line with the beliefs of the white men, many of them slave owners, who ratified it in the late eighteenth century…. [He] spent thousands of words plumbing the psyches of the Framers, to conclude (wrongly, as John Paul Stevens pointed out in his dissent) that they had meant that individuals, not just members of “well-regulated” state militias, had the right to own handguns. Even Scalia’s ideological allies recognized the folly of trying to divine the “intent” of the authors of the Constitution concerning questions that those bewigged worthies could never have anticipated. During the oral argument of a challenge to a California law that required, among other things, warning labels on violent video games, Justice Samuel Alito interrupted Scalia’s harangue of a lawyer by quipping, “I think what Justice Scalia wants to know is what James Madison thought about video games. Did he enjoy them?”

Scalia described himself as an advocate of judicial restraint, who believed that the courts should defer to the democratically elected branches of government. In reality, he lunged at opportunities to overrule the work of Presidents and of legislators, especially Democrats. Scalia helped gut the Voting Rights Act, overturn McCain-Feingold and other campaign-finance rules, and, in his last official act, block President Obama’s climate-change regulations. Scalia’s reputation, like the Supreme Court’s, is also stained by his role in the majority in Bush v. Gore. His oft-repeated advice to critics of the decision was “Get over it.”

Not long ago, Scalia told an interviewer that he had cancelled his subscription to the Washington Post and received his news from the Wall Street Journal, the Washington Times (owned by the Reverend Sun Myung Moon’s Unification Church), and conservative talk radio. In this, as in his jurisprudence, he showed that he lived within the sealed bubble of contemporary conservative thought. That bubble also helps explain the Republican response to the new vacancy on the Court. Within hours of Scalia’s death, Mitch McConnell, the Senate Majority Leader, announced that the Senate will refuse even to allow a vote on Obama’s nominee, regardless of who he or she turns out to be. Though other Republican senators have indicated that they might be a little more flexible, at least on hearing out a nominee, the chances of a confirmation before the end of Obama’s term appear to be close to nil.

This Republican intransigence is a sign of panic, not of power. The Court now consists of four liberals (Ginsburg, Stephen Breyer, Sonia Sotomayor, and Elena Kagan) and three hard-core conservatives (Roberts, Clarence Thomas, and Alito), plus Anthony Kennedy, who usually but not always sides with the conservatives. With Scalia’s death, there is a realistic possibility of a liberal majority for the first time in two generations, since the last days of the Warren Court. A Democratic victory in November will all but assure this transformation. Republicans are heading to the barricades; Democrats were apparently too blindsided to recognize good news when they got it.

…. Scalia won a great deal more than he lost, and he and his allies succeeded in transforming American politics into a cash bazaar, with seats all but put up for bidding. But even though Scalia led a conservative majority on the Court for virtually his entire tenure, he never achieved his fondest hopes—thanks first to O’Connor and then to Kennedy. Roe v. Wade endures. Affirmative action survives. Obamacare lives. Gay rights are ascendant; the death penalty is not. (These positions are contingent, of course, and cases this year may weaken the Court’s resolve.) For all that Presidents shape the Court, the Justices rarely stray too far from public opinion. And, on the social issues where the Court has the final word, the real problem for Scalia’s heirs is that they are out of step with the rest of the nation. The public wants diversity, not intolerance; more marriages and fewer executions; less money in politics, not more. Justice Scalia’s views—passionately felt and pungently expressed though they were—now seem like so many boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past.

© The New Yorker 2016

ROGER ANGELL ON LIFE AFTER NINETY

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Roger Angell and his dog Andy, January 2014.  Photo courtesy of The New Yorker.

Roger Angell and his dog Andy, January 2014. [Photo courtesy of The New Yorker.]

[The most viewed piece I ever posted was a summary of “This Old Man,” an essay written by Roger Angell. It had just been published in The New Yorker.  My post ran sixteen months ago, on February 14, 2014, But it still shows up in the stats as being read almost every day by one or more people somewhere in the world.

Initially, I credited its popularity to the fact that the TGOB post offered readers almost half of the Angell essay for free, whereas The New Yorker archives were not free then, except to subscribers. But now I think there’s something more to it than that.  As far as I know,” This Old Man” is almost unique in being written by someone with a clear and literate voice who was in the tenth decade of his life — 94 when the essay was published, 95 this year.

That may seem a long way off to most of you.  Not to me. In less than a month, I will be 84. So once in a while I go back and reread the post, to remind myself of what it may be like for me in just ten years, if I’m lucky enough still to be here then.  Of course, Angell has far more money than I do, and more connections, and more this, that and the other thing to perhaps ease his journey towards the end.  But I do believe most of the essentials about which he writes remain the same for everyone.

Of the sixteen people who clicked “like” on the post when it first appeared, I recognize the avatars of seven or eight.  But many newer readers and followers of TGOB may not have gone rummaging in the blog’s archives to find it.  Therefore, I hope those of you to whom it’s already familiar will humor me for running it once more.  It does make those of us who are only a bit younger, or even very much younger, stop and think.]

ROGER ANGELL ON LIFE IN HIS NINETIES

[A reblog]

Roger Angell was born in 1920. He is the son of Katherine White, an early and renowned fiction editor at The New Yorker, and step-son of E.B. White, author of Stuart Little and Charlotte’s Web. Angell himself has been associated with and written for The New Yorker nearly all of his professional life, more recently always about baseball, and still does a baseball blog for the magazine. I can take baseball or leave it (which is more than I can say for football, basketball or hockey), but mostly I leave it now that my two sons are long out of the house. So when I see something by Angell in the magazine, I’m inclined to skip it.

However, this week’s The New Yorker contains a long piece he has just written which is not about baseball. It’s called “This Old Man” (subtitled “Life in the Nineties”), and I could not put it down until I had read every word. Finding something good about getting old written by someone a bit older than me doesn’t happen every day! So I wish I could just copy out the whole thing here to show everybody. But it’s too long. (Pages 60-65 in the February 17 & 24, 2014 issue, the one with the annual Cholly Knickerbocker cover.)

Nonetheless, without pushing the outer limits of bloggery too far, I can probably offer a taste from the middle (about how the rest of the world treats you when you’re old) and then the last page and a half, about which I thought, oh yes, oh yes, oh yes, all the way to the tiny diamond which marks the end.

If you’re twenty-five and feel you don’t need to think about things like this right now, you probably don’t. Unless you’ve got a great-aunt or great-uncle still hanging in there, and want to know what it feels like. But your generation probably doesn’t read TGOB much, if at all. So this post is mainly for everyone else.

Because I’ve had to cut somewhere, I’m skipping the beginning and some of the middle, in which Angell describes his present pretty-far-gone physical condition (eyes, limbs, spine, heart), his personal losses (wife Carol, daughter Callie, dog Harry, many many friends), his remaining joys, his thoughts on death and dying. You can find the magazine online (Google it if you don’t subscribe), should you want to read it all. This part is from page 63:

We elders — what kind of a handle is this, anyway, halfway between a tree and an eel? — we elders have learned a thing or two, including invisibility. Here I am in a conversation with some trusty friends — old friends but actually not all that old: they’re in their sixties — and we’re finishing the wine and in serious converse about global warming…or Virginia Woolf…. There’s a pause, and I chime in with a couple of sentences. The others look at me politely, then resume the talk exactly at the point where they’ve just left it. What? Hello? Didn’t I just say something? Have I left the room? Have I experienced what neurologists call a TIA — a transient ischemic attack? I didn’t expect to take over the chat but did await a word or two or response. Not tonight, though. (Women I know say that this began to happen to them when they passed fifty.) When I mention the phenomenon to anyone around my age, I get back nods and smiles. Yes, we’re invisible. Honored, respected, even loved, but not quite worth listening to anymore. You’ve had your turn, Pops; now it’s ours…..

And here are the last two columns of page 64 and all of page 65:

I get along. Now and then it comes to me that I appear to have more energy and hope than some of my coevals, but I take no credit for this. I don’t belong to a book club or a bridge club; I’m not taking up Mandarin or practicing the viola. In a sporadic effort to keep my brain from moldering, I’ve begun to memorize shorter poems — by Auden, Donne, Ogden Nash, and more — which I recite to myself some nights while walking my dog, Harry’s successor fox terrier, Andy. I’ve also become a blogger, and enjoy the ease and freedom of the form: it’s a bit like making a paper airplane and then watching it take wing below your window. But shouldn’t I have something more scholarly or complex than this put away by now — late paragraphs of accomplishments, good works, some weightier-op-cits? I’m afraid not. The thoughts of age are short, short thoughts. I don’t read Scripture and cling to no life precepts, except perhaps to Walter Cronkite’s rules for old men, which he did not deliver over the air: Never trust a fart. Never pass up a drink. Never ignore an erection.

I count on jokes, even jokes about death.

Small Boy: My name is Irving and my dad is a mechanic.
Teacher: A mechanic! Thank you, Irving. Next?
Small Girl: My name is Emma and my mom is a lawyer.
Teacher: How nice for you, Emma. Next?
Second Small Boy: My name is Luke and my dad is dead.
Teacher: Oh, Luke, how sad for you. We’re all very sorry about that, aren’t we class? Luke, do you think you could tell us what Dad did before he died?
Luke (seizes his throat): He went “N’gungghhh!”
Not bad — I’m told that fourth graders really go for this one. Let’s try another.

A man and his wife tried and tried to have a baby, but without success. Years went by and they went on trying, but no luck. They liked each other, so the work was always a pleasure, but they grew a bit sad along the way. Finally, she got pregnant, was very careful, and gave birth to a beautiful eight-pound-two-ounce baby boy. The couple were beside themselves with happiness. At the hospital that night, she told her husband to stop by the local newspaper and arrange for a birth announcement, to tell all their friends the good news. First thing next morning, she asked if he’d done the errand.

“Yes, I did,” he said, “but I had no idea those little notices in the paper were so expensive.”

“Expensive?” she said. “How much was it?”

“It was eight hundred and thirty-seven dollars. I have the receipt.”

“Eight hundred and thirty-seven dollars!” she cried. “But that’s impossible. You must have made some mistake. Tell me exactly what happened.”

“There was a young lady behind a counter at the paper, who gave me the form to fill out,” he said. “I put in your name and my name and little Teddy’s name and weight, and when we’d be home again and, you know, ready to see friends. I handed it back to her and she counted up the words and said, “How many insertions?” I said twice a week for fourteen years, and she gave me the bill. O.K.?”

I heard this tale more than fifty years ago, when my first wife, Evelyn, and I were invited to tea by a rather elegant older couple who were new to our little Rockland County community. They were in their seventies, at least, and very welcoming, and it was just the four of us. We barely knew them and I was surprised when he turned and asked her to tell us the joke about the couple trying to have a baby. “Oh, no,” she said, “they wouldn’t want to hear that.”

“Oh, come on, dear — they’ll love it,” he said, smiling at her. I groaned inwardly and was preparing a forced smile while she started off shyly, but then, of course, the four of us fell over laughing together.

That night, Evelyn said, “Did you see Keith’s face while Edie was telling that story? Did you see hers? Do you think it’s possible that they’re still — you know, still doing it?”

“Yes, I did– yes, I do,” I said. “I was thinking exactly the same thing. They’re amazing.”

This was news back then, but probably shouldn’t be by now. I remember a passage I came upon years later, in an Op-Ed piece in the Times, written by a man who’d just lost his wife. “We slept naked in the same bed for forty years,” it went. There was also my splendid colleague Bob Bingham, dying in his late fifties, who was asked by a friend what he’d missed or would do differently if given the chance. He thought for an instant, and said, “More venery.”

More venery. More love; more closeness; more sex and romance. Bring it back, no matter what, no matter how old we are. This fervent cry of ours has been certified by Simone de Beauvoir and Alice Munro and Laurence Olivier and any number or remarried or recoupled ancient classmates of ours. Laurence Olivier? I’m thinking of what he says somewhere in an interview: “Inside, we’re all seventeen, with red lips.”

This is a dodgy subject, coming as it does here from a recent widower, and I will risk further breach of code and add that this was something that Carol and I now and then idly discussed. We didn’t quite see the point of memorial fidelity. In our view, the departed spouse — we always thought it would be me — wouldn’t be around anymore but knew or had known that he or she was loved forever. Please go ahead, then, sweetheart — don’t miss a moment. Carol said this last: “If you haven’t found someone else by a year after I’m gone I’ll come back and haunt you.”

Getting old is the second-biggest surprise of my life, but the first, by a mile, is our unceasing need for deep attachment and intimate love. We oldies yearn daily and hourly for conversation and a renewed domesticity, for company at the movies or while visiting a museum, for someone close by in the car when coming at home at night. This is why we throng Match.com and OkCupid in such numbers — but not just for this surely. Rowing in Eden (in Emily Dickinson’s words: “Rowing in Eden –/ Ah — the sea”) isn’t reserved for the lithe and young, the dating or the hooked-up or the just lavishly married, or even for couples in the middle-aged mixed-doubles semifinals, thank God. No personal confession or revelation impends here, but these feelings in old folks are widely treated like a raunchy secret. The invisibility factor — you’ve had your turn — is back at it again. But I believe that everyone in the world wants to be with someone else tonight, together in the dark, with the sweet warmth of a hip or a foot or a bare expanse of shoulder within reach. Those of us who have lost that, whatever our age, never lose the longing: just look at our faces. If it returns, we seize upon it avidly, stunned and altered again.

Nothing is easy at this age, and first meetings for old lovers can be a high-risk venture. Reticence and awkwardness slip into the room. Also happiness. A wealthy old widower I knew married a nurse he met while in the hospital, but had trouble remembering her name afterward. He called her “kid.” An eighty-plus, twice-widowed lady I’d once known found still another love, a frail but vibrant Midwest professor, now close to ninety, and the pair got in two or three happy years together before he died as well. When she called his children and arranged to pick up her things at his house, she found every possession of hers lined up outside the front door.

But to hell with them and with all that, O.K.? Here’s to you, old dears. You got this right, every one of you. Hook, line, and sinker; never mind the why or wherefore; somewhere in the night; love me forever, or at least until next week. For us and for anyone this unsettles, anyone who’s younger and still squirms at the vision of an old couple embracing, I’d offer John Updike’s “Sex or death: you take your pick” — a line that appears (in a slightly different form) in a late story of his, “Playing with Dynamite.”

This is a great question, an excellent insurance-plan choice, I mean. I think it’s in the Affordable Care Act somewhere. Take it from us, who know about the emptiness of loss, and are still cruising along here feeling lucky and not yet entirely alone.

You may not like the jokes. But oh, is he ever right! Here’s one more little bit to leave off with:

In the first summer after Carol had gone, a man I’d known slightly and pleasantly for decades listened while I talked about my changed routines and my doctors and dog walkers and the magazine. I paused for a moment, and he said, “Plus you have us.”

Another message — also brief, also breathtaking — came on an earlier afternoon at my longtime therapist’s, at a time when I felt I’d lost almost everything. “I don’t know how I’m going to get through this,” I said at last.

A silence, then: “Neither do I. But you will.”

ROGER ANGELL ON LIFE IN HIS NINETIES

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Roger Angell and his dog, Andy,  January 2014. [Photo credit: The New Yorker]

Roger Angell and his dog Andy, January 2014. [Photo credit: The New Yorker]

Roger Angell was born in 1920.  He is the son of Katherine White, an early and renowned fiction editor at The New Yorker, and step-son of E.B. White, author of Stuart Little and Charlotte’s Web.  Angell himself has been associated with and written for The New Yorker nearly all of his professional life, more recently always about baseball, and still does a baseball blog for the magazine.  I can take baseball or leave it (which is more than I can say for football, basketball or hockey), but mostly I leave it now that my two sons are long out of the house. So when I see something by Angell in the magazine, I’m inclined to skip it.

However, this week’s The New Yorker contains a long piece he has just written which is not about baseball.  It’s called This Old Man (subtitled “Life in the Nineties”), and I could not put it down until I had read every word.  Finding something good about getting old written by someone quite a bit older than me doesn’t happen every day! So I wish I could just copy out the whole thing here to show everybody.  But it’s too long.  (Pages 60-65 in the February 17 & 24, 2014 issue, the one with the annual Cholly Knickerbocker cover.)

However, without pushing the outer limits of bloggery too far, I can probably offer a taste from the middle (about how the rest of the world treats you when you’re old) and then the last page and a half,  about which I thought, oh yes, oh yes, oh yes, all the way to the tiny diamond which marks the end.

If you’re twenty-five and feel you don’t need to think about things like this right now, you probably don’t.  Unless you’ve got a great-aunt or great-uncle still hanging in there, and want to know what it feels like.  But your generation probably doesn’t read The Getting Old Blog much, if at all.  So this post is mainly for everyone else.

Because I’ve had to cut somewhere, I’m skipping the beginning and some of the middle, in which Angell describes his present pretty-far-gone physical condition (eyes, limbs, spine, heart), his personal losses (wife Carol, daughter Callie, dog Harry, many many friends), his remaining joys, his thoughts on death and dying. You can find the magazine online (Google it if you don’t subscribe), should you want to read it all.  This part is from page 63:

We elders — what kind of a handle is this, anyway, halfway between a tree and an eel? — we elders have learned a thing or two, including invisibility.  Here I am in a conversation with some trusty friends — old friends but actually not all that old: they’re in their sixties — and we’re finishing the wine and in serious converse about global warming…or Virginia Woolf…. There’s a pause, and I chime in with a couple of sentences.  The others look at me politely, then resume the talk exactly at the point where they’ve just left it.  What? Hello? Didn’t I just say something? Have I left the room? Have I experienced what neurologists call a TIA — a transient ischemic attack?  I didn’t expect to take over the chat but did await a word or two or response.  Not tonight, though. (Women I know say that this began to happen to them when they passed fifty.) When I mention the phenomenon to anyone around my age, I get back nods and smiles.  Yes, we’re invisible.  Honored, respected, even loved, but not quite worth listening to anymore.  You’ve had your turn, Pops; now it’s ours…..

And here are the last two columns of page 64 and all of page 65:

I get along.  Now and then it comes to me that I appear to have more energy and hope than some of my coevals, but I take no credit for this.  I don’t belong to a book club or a bridge club; I’m not taking up Mandarin or practicing the viola.  In a sporadic effort to keep my brain from moldering, I’ve begun to memorize shorter poems — by Auden, Donne, Ogden Nash, and more — which I recite to myself some nights while walking my dog, Harry’s successor fox terrier, Andy. I’ve also become a blogger, and enjoy the ease and freedom of the form: it’s a bit like making a paper airplane and then watching it take wing below your window.  But shouldn’t I have something more scholarly or complex than this put away by now — late paragraphs of accomplishments, good works, some weightier-op-cits?  I’m afraid not.  The thoughts of age are short, short thoughts.  I don’t read Scripture and cling to no life precepts, except perhaps to Walter Cronkite’s rules for old men, which he did not deliver over the air:  Never trust a fart. Never pass up a drink.  Never ignore an erection.

I count on jokes, even jokes about death.

     Small Boy:  My name is Irving and my dad is a mechanic.
     Teacher:  A mechanic!  Thank you, Irving.  Next?
     Small Girl:  My name is Emma and my mom is a lawyer.
     Teacher:  How nice for you, Emma.  Next?
      Second Small Boy:  My name is Luke and my dad is dead.
     Teacher:  Oh, Luke, how sad for you.  We’re all very sorry about that, aren’t we class?  Luke, do you think you could tell us what Dad did before he died?
     Luke (seizes his throat): He went “N’gungghhh!”

Not bad — I’m told that fourth graders really go for this one.  Let’s try another.

A man and his wife tried and tried to have a baby, but without success.  Years went by and they went on trying, but no luck.  They liked each other, so the work was always a pleasure, but they grew a bit sad along the way.  Finally, she got pregnant, was very careful, and gave birth to a beautiful eight-pound-two-ounce baby boy.  The couple were beside themselves with happiness.  At the hospital that night, she told her husband to stop by the local newspaper and arrange for a birth announcement, to tell all their friends the good news.  First thing next morning, she asked if he’d done the errand.

“Yes, I did,” he said, “but I had no idea those little notices in the paper were so expensive.”

“Expensive?” she said.  “How much was it?”

“It was eight hundred and thirty-seven dollars.  I have the receipt.”

“Eight hundred and thirty-seven dollars!” she cried.  “But that’s impossible.  You must have made some mistake.  Tell me exactly what happened.”

“There was a young lady behind a counter at the paper, who gave me the form to fill out,” he said. “I put in your name and my name and little Teddy’s name and weight, and when we’d be home again and, you know, ready to see friends.  I handed it back to her and she counted up the words and said, “How many insertions?” I said twice a week for fourteen years, and she gave me the bill.  O.K.?”

I heard this tale more than fifty years ago, when my first wife, Evelyn, and I were invited to tea by a rather elegant older couple who were new to our little Rockland County community.  They were in their seventies, at least, and very welcoming, and it was just the four of us.  We barely knew them and I was surprised when he turned and asked her to tell us the joke about the couple trying to have a baby.  “Oh, no,” she said, “they wouldn’t want to hear that.”

“Oh, come on, dear — they’ll love it,” he said, smiling at her.  I groaned inwardly and was preparing a forced smile while she started off shyly, but then, of course, the four of us fell over laughing together.

That night, Evelyn said, “Did you see Keith’s face while Edie was telling that story?  Did you see hers? Do you think it’s possible that they’re still — you know, still doing it?”

“Yes, I did– yes, I do,” I said.  “I was thinking exactly the same thing.  They’re amazing.”

This was news back then, but probably shouldn’t be by now.  I remember a passage I came upon years later, in an Op-Ed piece in the Times, written by a man who’d just lost his wife. “We slept naked in the same bed for forty years,” it went.  There was also my splendid colleague Bob Bingham, dying in his late fifties, who was asked by a friend what he’d missed or would do differently if given the chance.  He thought for an instant, and said, “More venery.”

More venery.  More love; more closeness; more sex and romance.  Bring it back, no matter what, no matter how old we are.  This fervent cry of ours has been certified by Simone de Beauvoir and Alice Munro and Laurence Olivier and any number or remarried or recoupled ancient classmates of ours.  Laurence Olivier? I’m thinking of what he says somewhere in an interview:  “Inside, we’re all seventeen, with red lips.”

This is a dodgy subject, coming as it does here from a recent widower, and I will risk further breach of code and add that this was something that Carol and I now and then idly discussed.  We didn’t quite see the point of memorial fidelity.  In our view, the departed spouse — we always thought it would be me — wouldn’t be around anymore but knew or had known that he or she was loved forever.  Please go ahead, then, sweetheart — don’t miss a moment.  Carol said this last: “If you haven’t found someone else by a year after I’m gone I’ll come back and haunt you.”

Getting old is the second-biggest surprise of my life, but the first, by a mile, is our unceasing need for deep attachment and intimate love.  We oldies yearn daily and hourly for conversation and a renewed domesticity, for company at the movies or while visiting a museum, for someone close by in the car when coming at home at night.  This is why we throng Match.com and OkCupid in such numbers — but not just for this surely.  Rowing in Eden (in Emily Dickinson’s words: “Rowing in Eden –/ Ah — the sea”) isn’t reserved for the lithe and young, the dating or the hooked-up or the just lavishly married, or even for couples in the middle-aged mixed-doubles semifinals, thank God.  No personal confession or revelation impends here, but these feelings in old folks are widely treated like a raunchy secret.  The invisibility factor — you’ve had your turn — is back at it again. But I believe that everyone in the world wants to be with someone else tonight, together in the dark, with the sweet warmth of a hip or a foot or a bare expanse of shoulder within reach.  Those of us who have lost that, whatever our age, never lose the longing: just look at our faces.  If it returns, we seize upon it avidly, stunned and altered again.

Nothing is easy at this age, and first meetings for old lovers can be a high-risk venture.  Reticence and awkwardness slip into the room.  Also happiness. A wealthy old widower I knew married a nurse he met while in the hospital, but had trouble remembering her name afterward.  He called her “kid.” An eighty-plus, twice-widowed lady I’d once known found still another love, a frail but vibrant Midwest professor, now close to ninety, and the pair got in two or three happy years together before he died as well.  When she called his children and arranged to pick up her things at his house, she found every possession of hers lined up outside the front door.

But to hell with them and with all that, O.K.? Here’s to you, old dears.  You got this right, every one of you.  Hook, line, and sinker; never mind the why or wherefore; somewhere in the night; love me forever, or at least until next week.  For us and for anyone this unsettles, anyone who’s younger and still squirms at the vision of an old couple embracing, I’d offer John Updike’s “Sex or death: you take your pick” — a line that appears (in a slightly different form) in a late story of his, “Playing with Dynamite.”

This is a great question, an excellent insurance-plan choice, I mean. I think it’s in the Affordable Care Act somewhere. Take it from us, who know about the emptiness of loss, and are still cruising along here feeling lucky and not yet entirely alone.

You may not like the jokes.  But oh, is he ever right!  Here’s one more little bit to leave off with:

In the first summer after Carol had gone, a man I’d known slightly and pleasantly for decades listened while I talked about my changed routines and my doctors and dog walkers and the magazine. I paused for a moment, and he said, “Plus you have us.”

Another message — also brief, also breathtaking — came on an earlier afternoon at my longtime therapist’s, at a time when I felt I’d lost almost everything.  “I don’t know how I’m going to get through this,” I said at last.

A silence, then: “Neither do I.  But you will.”