I have turned to some biographical narrative in order to consider how older people themselves narrate the meanings of age. Perhaps it is not surprising to discover that women do this much more creatively (and I think honestly) than men. This short book is quite amazing in its eloquence, honesty, wisdom and rigour. Reading Heilbrum is like listening to Bach – a delight! She combines wit and detached judgement – a rare combination when the subject matter is herself and her approaching old age.
There is no pretence that age is easy – indeed Heilbrum reckins that when it comes to life and age – it is rather better to leave the party while it is still fun! She draws on her career as a University English teacher by using some of the great texts of literature to illuminate her journey. It also gives her a skill in expression which is bountiful for the reader.
This is (from one perspective) a rather privileged life – a happy and comfortable family life, a secure and well rewarded career and a society that is intelligent and sociable. She enjoys two homes and lots of European travel indulging her love of all things English. But she fears old age and all that it may bring through its diminishings and decline in power and choice.
She elects for a different approach – to live on borrowed time and enjoy the moment in all its possibilities. So we have reflections on her new house; her marriage; sweet solitude; the fascination with the computer and e mail; the joy of discovering new friends. Each short chapter deserves to be pondered and the lessons within them taken up for ourselves. In the narrative are many pearls of wisdom to help us learn to love being old.
Now how do we define old? That is for another day. I will leave you with a rather wonderful picture of the author: