"In the night...the scream of the rabbit is terrible. But the scream of the owl which is not of pain and hopelessness and fear of being plucked out the world, but of the sheer rollicking glory of the death-bringer, is more terrible still. When I hear it resounding through the woods, and then the five black pellets of its song dropping like stones into the air, I know I am standing on the edge of the mystery, in which terror is naturally and abundantly part of life, part of even the most becalmed, intelligent, sunny life--as for example, my own. The world where the owl is endlessly hungry and endlessly on the hunt is the world in which I live, too. There is only one world."
Mary Oliver, Blue Pastures

Tuesday, March 4, 2014

This Old Man, Life in the nineties

Roger Angell's first contribution to the New Yorker was in March of 1944, a year before I was born. An amazing length of productivity. Nearing my seventh decade, I am relatively young, but still far enough along to appreciate his perspective of age and a well-lived life. The Angell piece, This Old Man, Life in the nineties, in the current New Yorker is just marvelous. A no bullshit view of life and aging. Here's a snippet:
Here in my tenth decade, I can testify that the downside of great age is the room it provides for rotten news. Living long means enough already. When Harry died, Carol and I couldn’t stop weeping; we sat in the bathroom with his retrieved body on a mat between us, the light-brown patches on his back and the near-black of his ears still darkened by the rain, and passed a Kleenex box back and forth between us. Not all the tears were for him. Two months earlier, a beautiful daughter of mine, my oldest child, had ended her life, and the oceanic force and mystery of that event had not left full space for tears. Now we could cry without reserve, weep together for Harry and Callie and ourselves. Harry cut us loose.
 What I’ve come to count on is the white-coated attendant of memory, silently here again to deliver dabs from the laboratory dish of me. In the days before Carol died, twenty months ago, she lay semiconscious in bed at home, alternating periods of faint or imperceptible breathing with deep, shuddering catch-up breaths. Then, in a delicate gesture, she would run the pointed tip of her tongue lightly around the upper curve of her teeth. She repeated this pattern again and again. I’ve forgotten, perhaps mercifully, much of what happened in that last week and the weeks after, but this recurs.
Carol is around still, but less reliably. For almost a year, I would wake up from another late-afternoon mini-nap in the same living-room chair, and, in the instants before clarity, would sense her sitting in her own chair, just opposite. Not a ghost but a presence, alive as before and in the same instant gone again. This happened often, and I almost came to count on it, knowing that it wouldn’t last. Then it stopped.
I don't know how the New Yorker website works. If you have to be a subscriber to access things, subscribe now. Your life will be fuller for it. Here's a link to the complete piece.


Elaine Toft (BloggerToots) said...

As practical and useful time wise it would be to unsubscribe from the New Yorker daily thread, I can't. It's just too rich in too many ways. Thank you, this piece no kidding, helped me decide.

Gunnar Berg said...

Sorry it's a stretch, happy you could make it happen.