Through the nearly two decades I have been studying (or researching or reading or whatever this continuing interest is) aging, I have collected a good-sized library of related books.
Mixed among the practical, the journalistic, scholarly and political are memoirs, autobiographies, journals, chronicles, meditations, contemplations, reflections and a few novels about aging written by old people – you know, the real experts on this stage of life.
It is a shame to leave them on a shelf when I'm finished reading, so beginning today, Elder Prose Interlude will join the occasional Elder Poetry Interlude I've been publishing recently. I hope you will enjoy these.
By Florida Scott-Maxwell
“We are people to whom something important is about to happen. But before then, these endless years before the end, can we summon enough merit to warrant a place for ourselves? We go into the future not knowing the answer to our question.”
“Age puzzles me. I thought it was a quiet time. My seventies were interesting, and fairly serene, but my eighties are passionate. I grow more intense as I age. To my own surprise I burst out with hot conviction.”
“My dear fellow octogenarians, how are we to carry so much life, and what are we to do with it?
“Let no one say it is 'unlived life' with any of the simpler psychological certitudes. No one lives all the life of which he was capable. The unlived life in each of us must be the future of humanity.
“When truly old, too frail to use the vigour that pulses in us, and weary, sometimes even scornful of what can seem the pointless activity of mankind, we may sink down to some deeper level and find a new supply of life that amazes us.
“All is uncharted and uncertain, we seem to lead the way into the unknown.”
“Age is truly a time of heroic helplessness. One is confronted by one's own incorrigibility. I am always saying to myself, 'Look at you, and after a lifetime of trying.' I still have the vices that I have known and struggled with – well it seems like since birth. Many of them are modified, but not much.
“I can neither order nor command the hubbub of my mind. Or is it my nervous sensibility? This is not the effect of age; age only defines one's boundaries. Life has changed me greatly, it has improved me greatly, but it has also left me practically the same.
“I cannot spell. I am over critical, egocentric and vulnerable. I cannot be simple. In my effort to be clear I become complicated. I know my faults so well that I pay them small heed. They are stronger than I am. They are me.”
“When a new disability arrives I look about me to see if death has come, and I call quietly, 'Death, is that you? Are you there?' So far the disability has answered, 'Don't be silly, it's me.'”
Florida Scott-Maxwell, an American who lived most of her life in Scotland, was an actress, playwright, suffrage activist and a Jungian psychologist. Born in 1883, she died in 1979 at age 95.
The Measure of My Days, written when Scott-Maxwell was in her eighties, is timeless and as timely today as it was when it was published nearly half a century ago. It's the sort of book to keep by your side to dip into any page for a bit of inspiration and even wisdom.
At The Elder Storytelling Place today, Sharon Ostrow: Haven