On the 17th of May I wrote about a very remarkable book by May Sarton (At Seventy). You can imagine my delight at finding another journal by her entitled Endgame. One of the great things about living in a University area (Hyde Park Chicago) was the wonderful collection of second hand bookshops. Where better to spend some time wandering down the stacks of shelves. Because of space they stack them high here – and browsing requires some skill up a ladder. It is fine until someone bumps into the ladder – and it shakes!
This book takes us on nine years and gives an account of Sartons seventy ninth year.
And – as a result – it is a very different book. Sarton moves from third age to fourth age and charts the physical and emotional struggle with illness and diminishment. Her health is often her main preoccuption and she reflects on it without sentiment or meaning. It is – just – tough! And she tells her reader how and why it is so. Those who interfere with excessive kindness are given the brush off (rightly so) and the medics who are unable to sympathise and treat are brought to task too. Her illness is debilitating and she struggles to maintain any sense of energy or control. ‘ I am to settle, or so it seems, for a semi life, or a life of a semi invalid. This has been the struggle of the last months, to learn to accept that my life as a writer is probably over and to learn to accept dependence’ (page 14).
In all this there continues to be grace and life and wisdom. She reflects on the seasons withpoetic delight – and there are friends who ease the burden with cooked food and company. I like her definition of a root friend as one who goes back a long way and therefore a great many things never have to be explained because they are already known. (page 65). Despite the company there is loneliness and fear of severe memory loss. She struggles with depression but faces each task with courage. She knows death may not be very far away but shows no sign of regret or anxiety – or need to take refuge in religion!
There is a search for integration and peace which is in sight but never fully grasped. That seems right as life takes its course and we live with its (and our) imperfections. There are some splendid bits of her own and others poetry and reflections on her reading a variety of books. She is unafraid of telling us which writers have yet to master their art!
This is the testament of a bridge builder – a person who has gone deep and whose wisdom and humanity are the richer for these travels.
Another good book but a much harder one to read and ‘stay’ with because it challenges us all with some fundamental questions. And if you are in a second hand book shop half up a ladder – buy it before you fall off!