I have, of late, Parishioners
celebrated another anniversary.
The Sin of Vanity precludes me from admitting my age
but it is greater than I would prefer.
I recently ran across this article,
which seems particularly pertinent.
I have sampled heartily
but urge y’all to read the whole thing sometime.
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Note that this brilliant article is © Copyright 2007, News Corporation, Weekly Standard, All Rights Reserved. I hope I have observed fair use.
A funny age to turn, 70, and despite misgivings I have gone ahead and done it. Birthdays have never been particularly grand events for me; my own neither please nor alarm me. I note them chiefly with amazement for having got through another year
One can either look upon life as a gift or as a burden, and I myself happen to be a gift man. I didn’t ask to be born, true enough; but really, how disappointing not to have been
As for my decay, what the French call my décomposition géneralé, it proceeds roughly on schedule
My memory for unimportant things has begun to fade, with results that thus far have been no more than mildly inconvenient
I’m beginning to find it difficult to bear women with high-pitched voices, especially in restaurants
Suddenly, I find myself worrying in a way I never used to do about things out of the routine in my life
I walk more slowly up and down stairs, gripping the railing going downstairs. I have, in sum, become more cautious, begun to feel, physically, more fragile, a bit vulnerable
Sleep has become erratic. I fall off to sleep readily enough, but two or three hours later I usually wake, often to invent impressively labyrinthine anxieties for myself to dwell upon for an hour or two before falling back into aesthetically unsatisfying dreams until six or so in the morning
A year or so ago, my dentist told me that I would have to spend a few thousand dollars to replace some dental work, and I told him that I would get back to him on this once I had the results of a forthcoming physical. If I had been found to have cancer, I thought, at least I could let the dentistry, even the flossing, go
At 70 it is natural to begin to view the world from the sidelines, a glass of wine in hand, watching younger people do the dances of ambition, competition, lust, and the rest of it
“Bodily decrepitude,” says Yeats, “is wisdom.” I seem to have accrued more of the former than the latter
I try to act as if God exists – that is, the prospects of guilt and shame and the moral endorphins that good conduct brings still motivate me to act as decently as I’m able. I suffer, then, some of the fear of religion without any of the enjoyment of the hope it brings
I would like to have enough money so that I don’t have to worry, or even think, about money, but it begins to look as if I shan’t achieve this, either
Another diminution I begin to notice is in the realm of tact. I have less of it. I feel readier than ever before to express my perturbation, impatience, boredom. Why, with less time remaining, hold back? “I wonder,” I find myself wanting to say to a fairly large number of people, “if you haven’t greatly overestimated your charm?”
I don’t much mind being mildly out of it, just as I don’t finally mind growing older
Schopenhauer holds that the chief element in old age is disillusionment. According to this dourest of all philosophers, at 70 we have, if we are at all sentient, realized “that there is very little behind most of the things desired and most of the pleasures hoped for; and we have gradually gained an insight into the great poverty and hollowness of our whole existence
From 70 on, one’s death can no longer be viewed as a surprise; a disappointment, yes, but not a surprise
I have decided to read, and often reread, books I’ve missed or those I’ve loved and want to reread one more time. I wonder if I shall be in the game long enough to reread Don Quixote and Herodotus and Montaigne – reread them all deeply and well, as they deserve to be read but, as always with masterworks, one suspects one failed to do the first and even second time around
Seventy ought to concentrate the mind, as Samuel Johnson said about an appointment with the gallows on the morrow, but it doesn’t – at least, it hasn’t concentrated my mind. My thoughts still wander about, a good part of the time forgetting my age, lost in low-grade fantasies, walking the streets daydreaming pointlessly
Despite my full awareness that time is running out, I quite cheerfully waste whole days as if I shall always have an unending supply on hand. I used to say that the minutes, hours, days, weeks, months seemed to pass at the same rate as ever, and it was only the decades that flew by. But now the days and weeks seem to flash by, too
I hope this does not suggest that, as I grow older, I am attaining anything like serenity. Although my ambition has lessened, my passions have diminished, my interests narrowed, my patience is no greater and my perspective has not noticeably widened. Only my general intellectual assurance has increased
I don’t have to write to live – only to feel alive. Will my writing outlive me? I am reasonably certain that it won’t, but – forgive me, Herr Schopenhauer – I keep alive the illusion that a small band of odd but immensely attractive people not yet born will find something of interest in my scribbles. The illusion, quite harmless I hope, gives me – I won’t say the courage, for none is needed – but the energy to persist.
I continue to read contemporary fiction, but not with the same eagerness with which I once read the fiction written by my elders and people of my own generation. A time comes when one loses not merely interest but even curiosity about the next new thing. How intensely, at 70, must I scrutinize the work of Jack Black, Sarah Silverman, Dave Eggers, and Sacha Baron Cohen?
But the feeling of being more and more out of it begins to sink in. I much like the Internet, adore email, and probably use Google seven or eight times a day. But must I also check in on YouTube, have a posting on MySpace, and spend a portion of my day text-messaging? At 70, the temptation is to relax, breathe through the mouth, and become comfortably rear-guard
Chateaubriand (1768-1848) wrote: “Nowadays one who lingers on in this world has witnessed not only the death of men, but also the death of ideas: principles, customs, tastes, pleasures, pains, feelings – nothing resembles what he used to know. He is of a different race from the human species in whose midst he is ending his days.”
I also grew up at a time when the goal was to be adult as soon as possible, while today – the late 1960s is the watershed moment here – the goal has become to stay as young as possible for as long as possible. The consequences of this for the culture are enormous. That people live longer only means that they feel they can remain kids longer: uncommitted to marriage, serious work, life itself
I, of course, hope for an artistically prosperous old age, though the models here are less than numerous. Most composers were finished by their 60s. Not many novelists have turned out powerful books past 70. Matisse, who is a hero of culture, painted up to the end through great illness, though his greatest work was done long before. There are the models of Rembrandt and Yeats. Rembrandt, in his richly complex self-portraits, recorded his own aging with great success, and Yeats – “That is no country for old men” – made aging, if not Byzantium, his country: “An aged man is but a paltry thing, / A tattered coat upon a stick, unless / Soul clap its hands and sing, and louder sing / For every tatter in its mortal dress.”
Rembrandt died at 63, Yeats at 73. I see that I had better get a move on.
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Here’s a profile of Mr Epstein