09 October 2011

* * * THE READING ROOM * * *

That direct stare which passes between the young and the old is high up among the classic confrontations. It prefaces one of the great dialogues of opposites, and contains a frank admission of helplessness on either side, for nothing can be done to blot out the detail of what has been, or block in the detail of what is to come.

On the one side is the clean sheet and on the other the crammed page, although the aged man knows only too well that youth isn't pristine, and that some of the ugliest marks to be found on the record were made then. As young and old survey each other, there is no envy and very little envy respectively. The young do not want to be old, nor do they entirely believe that they ever could be, and the old, generally speaking, do not wish to be young. Once through the gamut of time is enough for most people. What usually occurs is that an aged man still finds life surprisingly sweet and desire
s more agedness, but not a repeat full trip.

The young and the old are also sympathetically linked by their common awareness of the burdensome nature of life, because being strong and facing the prospect before us can be as daunting as being weak and facing the end of the road. In one respect, however, the old have the advantage, for with agedness comes an amazing recall of the talk and actions of youth -- exquisite, painful, shaming, triumphant or whatever.

The busy decades of work, parenthood and adult drives of all kinds promised to have obliterated these immaturities, and one of the shocks and sensations of old age is the completeness of their recovery. If the young could understand the intensity of this recall, it would be enough to make them deliberately do things worth the recalling, a kind of burying of spring's trophies to be dug up for nourishment in the winter. So the main difference in the confrontation is that the young do not realise that they are accumulating the memories which alone, in old age, will often make them interesting and tolerable to youth. For it is a bitterness which no amount of common sense can lessen, that memories are about the only thing that youth will want from age.

-- Ronald Blythe, The View in Winter: Reflections on Old Age (New York and London: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1979)

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