I recently read a great wee book called Alive, Alive Oh And Other Things That Matter. It was written by Diana Athill, a literary author and memoirist and it was an inspiring and reassuring read. Athill will be 100 next year and wrote this book, reflecting on her life and the joys of being alive, in the latter half of her nineties.
This post is partly a book review, but it also comes under the ‘Reflecting’ category here on the blog.
My take on getting older
As I’m approaching my 60th birthday later this year, the above book was an especially reassuring and joyful read. I felt positively young for one thing. But it also caused me to reflect on my own feelings about ageing and yes, about life coming to an end.
‘Dream as if you’ll live forever. Live as if you’ll die today.’ So said James Dean and given that this 1950s actor died aged only 24, it’s especially poignant. It’s also wise.
While there’s something to be said for living in the present, being ‘mindful of the moment’ as current speakers of wise words put it, on a practical level we all have to plan – even if it’s just what we’re going to have for dinner. We also need to have our reflective moments about the past and we need our dreams for the future.
We can’t ‘live every day as if it’s our last’ – another popular slogan. That’s one sure way to madness and exhaustion – and perhaps an early grave. But we can be aware of possible ‘lasts’. That is we should part on good terms when we say goodbye to loved ones, we should communicate our feelings, finish things, enjoy people, places and things as we encounter them, spot and create opportunities as the chance arises.
Although, I can’t treat every day as if it’s my last, if I knew I’d die today, I do know how I’d want to spend it. It would be with those closest to me and to be able to say goodbye and tell them how much I love them before I departed.
In my head, I’m still in my mid-thirties – at least until I look in the mirror. Life really does seem to have passed very quickly. Each decade has had all the normal ups and downs. I’ve had births and bereavement, gained an M.A. and an M.Sc., had a thirty-six year teaching career, and an even longer marriage. I have two grown-up children who have made me very proud and I’m now a grandma to two more wonderful little human beings. I’ve travelled all over the world, survived cancer and depression and, after a long apprenticeship,
have become a writer.
And in my writing for adults, I write contemporary fiction where the main characters are no longer young. They are – gasp – over 45, but they still have a life, they still live and love, make mistakes, start anew – regardless of their age. And I have readers who range from twenty-somethings to those in their nineties.
And in my real life there’s still stuff I want to do. I want to write more novels, do some more travelling, see my grandchildren grow up. I know, I don’t want much! And I’ll do my best to stay healthy in order to achieve these remaining dreams.
I suppose what I’m saying is yes, age is more than a number. The number is significant, of course it is. There’s no denying that the mind and body are affected by the passage of time. Ageing is inevitable. It’s the price you pay for surviving – and it sure beats the alternative.
I’m also saying cherish your past, it’s what has made you; nourish the present, it’s all you can hold in your grasp; and plan so you can look ahead with excited anticipation to your future. And yes, with equanimity, look to life’s end.
Alive, Alive Oh! And Other Things That Matter by Diana Athill
There’s a sense of having experienced a life well-lived that pervades Athill’s book. In this memoir, she looks back over her life from childhood until the present. Now resident in what sounds like a wonderful care home she’s sustained by her memories, but also enjoys a life that’s as full as she wants it to be. She talks about the friendships of old age and how they differ from those we experience when younger. She talks about the end of her sex life, about relative frailty, but also about getting out and about and taking part. And she is honest and candid about the approach of her own death. She doesn’t view death as the end, but as just another part of life.
The book has humour, poignancy and honesty. It is indeed life-affirming. And I recommend it whatever age you are.
Type of Read: Reassuring and inspiring. Read it with a glass of champagne and celebrate the sheer joy of being alive, alive oh!
Alive, Alive Oh! And Other Things That Matter is published by Granta and is available in Hardback and as an e-book.
Your Thoughts on Ageing
How do you feel about getting older? Does it scare you or do you embrace it? Do leave your comments.