Tuesday, 22 October 2013


Yesterday, a happy telephone conversation with an old friend.
We knew one another over forty years ago, when we were Bright Young Things in an exotic situation.
Many years later a number of serendipitous events led to our meeting again, and now we write (on good paper, with proper pens) and send one another books and other things of mutual interest, and we compete by telephone.

We compete over who can walk upstairs without hauling themselves on the banister rail, who can rise swiftly from a chair without using the chair arms, who can read without spectacles and over other such accomplishments which become increasingly significant when one is over seventy.

It is very good to be able to ask someone of the same age if it's normal to feel tired at the end of the day, if it's acceptable to feel timorous about motorway driving, if it's usual to be reluctant to leave one's comfort zone.
When you're this sort of age there seem no clear guide lines on what is all right and what might be the beginning of a decline, mental and/or physical.. There is so much promotion of youthfulness in mind and body, so much emphasis on activity and so few people who are prepared to be really honest about their fears and failings.

I look back over the distant views of my life and marvel at my physical energy and creative strength.
I'm so grateful that I was once, long ago, a Bright Young Thing, skimming around with two simultaneous jobs and doing up houses in my spare time. What spare time?

What spare time do we have now, my old friend and I?
Now there is nothing to spare and everything to value; the warmth of the sun through a window, the pleasing patterns of pens and papers on a desk, the smell of wood in the log pile, the morning walk along basically the same route which looks completely different every day.

We live quite a distance apart but our lives are so similar, our huge appreciations of minutae, our love of our respective homes, our respect for the young and our complete lack of envy for those who have it all to come.

I ask him, "Is it all right to feel exhausted by nine o' clock at night?"  He says," Of course it is. What on earth can happen after nine o' clock to make it worth staying up?"
We might both have answered very differently a few decades ago, but now if I want to know what's happening I go to bed with Radio 4..
"Is it all right to feel timorous about motorway driving?" I ask, and he says, "I'm never going to drive on a motorway again."
My life is not quite as simple, but I feel that it's all right to express reluctance, although I buy a SatNav and do it. But the feeling that I'm not alone in being suitably reluctant is a good one.
"What about leaving the comfort zone?" I ask. "Why do it?" he says, which is a good point. Of course I will do it, but I make sure I know why I'm doing it.

My youth seems long, long distant, and I can (mostly) appreciate the gentleness of ageing. As the looks go, so does the eyesight. As the strength declines so does the urge to use it. The more one slows down the more there is to appreciate in the finer details. As one faces the sadness and losses that death brings, so much more does one value the remaining friendships.


marigold jam said...

How true all this and how beautifully put. I am not yet quite 70 although I will be next year and I can really empathise with your thoughts here. I think it is wonderful that as the lines and wrinkles become more the eyesight with which to see them becomes less, as the ability to rush about declines the wish to do so does too etc. I love the phrase "to live at all is miracle enough" and I also love the way our appreciation of different things grows and we suddenly find ourselves totally taken up with things we never gave a thought to in our youth. No I wouldn't wish to be young again - I quite like being older don't you?

marigold jam said...

PS - I forgot to say how friendship becomes so much more important as we age don't you think? I am reading a book written by a lady of 96 who was a kitchen maid in her youth and she is still in touch with a friend she made then who is now 100 and they discuss the sorts of things you mention and no longer is the conversation all about boys and things to wear and so on. I do hope if/when I am 96 or even 100 I will still be able to converse with my friends by telephone.

Elephant's Child said...

Thank you, for expressing with elegance and beauty the fears and insecurities which I am considering more frequently.
Minutae is magical, and I wouldn't be a teenager again for anybody. I would like some of their energy (and suppleness) but still prefer the state of my head and heart today.

Zhoen said...


Consider yourself hugged, please.

Relatively Retiring said...

Marigold: I feel it's important to try and be honest about these things, but some people are unable to hear this and say things like, 'Rubbish, of course you're not old'. Kindly meant but not honest!
As for the friendships, the loss is sad and is not always because of death. There is a particular sadness in losing friends through diminishing mental powers.

E.C.: it's such a wonderful thing to be happy in your own skin. As a young person I was often pretending to be someone else!

Zhoen: thank you. Hugs are most welcome, no matter what the distance.

Jenny Woolf said...

An interesting and philosophical post. I think what you say is very true. You have put it very well.

Jenny Woolf said...

An interesting and philosophical post. I think what you say is very true, and it is really well expressed!

Relatively Retiring said...

Jenny: thank you. Blogger seems to double up comments over the last few days - it's done it to me several times!

Isabelle said...

What a lovely post.

Fire Bird said...

thank you for your honesty

Relatively Retiring said...

Isabelle and Firebird: thank you for taking the time to read and comment. Apologies for a delayed response, but there was a first birthday to prepare for and to celebrate.

pohanginapete said...

Hug from me too :^)

I've long looked up to inspirational older people. They seem to me like pioneers, going ahead where I trust I'll one day follow, showing me the Way. With luck, I'll eventually be able to do the same for those much younger than me. It feels like a delightful responsibility.

Relatively Retiring said...

P.Pete: thank you!
I think you've been fulfilling an inspirational role for some time, despite your youth.

Molly said...

So beautifully put.The emphasis on youth is over done. I find myself thinking of all these things you mention more often these days. I joke about my memory but wonder if it's natural ageing or something more ominous. I admire people who grow old gracefully and hope I'm managing to do so myself. There is such beauty in faces no longer young but made serene by wisdom and acceptance. More than ever I regret we couldn't manage to meet!

Sorry so late with this. I've been a lazy blogger.

Relatively Retiring said...

Molly: sorry for the late response - not lazy, but away!
I much regret that time and space did not allow a meeting.

Isabelle said...

Come back! That was a lovely post but rather a sad one in some ways.

Fat Dormouse said...

Hello! I have come via Marigold Jam, as I read your mystifying comment regarding sandwiches for badgers...Can you explain, please?

This is a beautifully written, poignant post. Thank you.

Relatively Retiring said...

Fat Domouse: thank you for reading and commenting. I have a wild-life rich garden and visiting badgers get pea-nut butter sandwiches.

Joy said...

I just loved this, you have a wonderful way with words, with expressing exactly how you (and others!) feel. I find your words and thoughts easy to relate to. 'Molly' stated it perfectly in her comment. I also came here by way of Marigold Jam. Oh, and 'Elephant's Child' also expressed my exact sentiments in her first sentence. Lovely outlook you have here.

persiflage said...

Hello, RR, I haven't visited for a while, partly because the blogging thingy changed some things around, and such things throw me off course.
I have so much enjoyed these recent posts, with their mixture of love, joy, acute observations, and wisdom. What a wonderful link you have had with CS Lewis, a person I always find interesting in all sorts of complex ways.