Penelope Lively on old age
My wife turns 33 tomorrow (Happy Birthday Hannah!) and I too will reach that milestone around nine weeks later. This fact made a quotation nestled within an excellent essay by Penelope Lively in the Guardian this week more poignant:
[Y]outh has expanded handsomely since Charlotte Brontë wailed, "I am now 32. Youth is gone – gone, – and will never come back; can't help it."
I do feel quite old. Having talked about it with other parents, it's almost definitely the act of having children that does it; a perpetual tiredness and expectancy that it's not going to get better for the foreseeable future.
It's interesting that, just as I shudder at the idea of reliving my teenage years, Lively wouldn't want to be 'young' again:
Am I envious of the young? Would I want to be young again? On the first count – not really, which surprises me. On the second – certainly not, if it meant a repeat performance. I would like to have back vigour and robust health, but that is not exactly envy. And, having known youth, I'm well aware that it has its own traumas, that it is no Elysian progress, that it can be a time of distress and disappointment, that it is exuberant and exciting, but it is no picnic. I don't particularly want to go back there.
I'm a big fan of her writing ever since studying Moon Tiger for English Literature 'A' Level. In fact, her essay makes me almost want to retire right now:
So this is old age. If you are not yet in it, you may be shuddering. If you are, you will perhaps disagree, in which case I can only say: this is how it is for me. And if it sounds – to anyone – a pretty pallid sort of place, I can refute that. It is not. Certain desires and drives have gone. But what remains is response. I am as alive to the world as I have ever been – alive to everything I see and hear and feel. I revel in the spring sunshine, and the cream and purple hellebore in the garden; I listen to a radio discussion about the ethics of selective abortion, and chip in at points; the sound of a beloved voice on the phone brings a surge of pleasure. I think there is a sea-change, in old age – a metamorphosis of the sensibilities. With those old consuming vigours now muted, something else comes into its own – an almost luxurious appreciation of the world that you are still in.
I just hope that there will be such a thing as retirement in 2050 - which is about the time I'll be hoping to experience some of the pleasures Lively describes.