Young people seem not to know that they are going to get old, but older people know that they are not going to become young again.
- Jim Harrison, Off to the Side: A Memoir
“Oh, to slow it all down!” writes a friend — but of course we can’t. Recent babies are already toddlers, schoolchildren are out of college and getting married and moving to Chicago, New York, Austin, and L.A. Sometimes we lose track of which acquaintances are still among the living, whereas close friends lost to the Reaper — always too soon! — remain in our everyday thoughts.
If ever I did earlier in life (I can’t remember now), I certainly don’t envy the young any longer. The second half of the twentieth century strikes me as a satisfying time to have been alive in midwestern America, which is lucky, as I’ve never had a yen for time travel. One thing I think about often lately, though, is how my response to beauty has changed. In the presence of beauty I feel now, at the same time, both more detached and more joyful. There is no longer much of anything like desire in it and certainly nothing of envy. A beautiful young woman or handsome young man, like the wise face of an elder or a baby’s happy smile, simply makes me happy. And if in a particular face I catch glimpses of a beloved generation past, my cup overfloweth.
Our reading circle will be meeting next week to talk about Virginia Woolf’s Mrs. Dalloway and Michael Cunningham’s The Hours. One thing that struck me most forcibly about Woolf’s novel was that she seemed to present suicide as a response not to the unbearable pain of life but to its unbearable beauty. I’ll find out, I guess, if others read the book as I did. For the present, anyway, I cannot wish for a single moment’s lessening of beauty, nor can I imagine hurrying to take leave of it. Instead my heart cries out with my friend, “Oh, to slow it all down!”