an open let­ter …

on longevity

Weekend Herald - Canvas - - MEGAN NICOL REED - Do write. megan­ni­col­

While I study those who are older than me, I envy those younger. It is their ig­no­rance I covet.

It was a lovely lit­tle reverie. He wrote, this par­tic­u­lar reader, how he was “eas­ily se­duced” by “a young lass with shapely gams in a knee­length ging­ham skirt sashay­ing down the street”. I’m sure it’s a sight thin on the ground these days. And I could’ve/should’ve left him hap­pily gadding about his 1950s fan­tasy, how­ever, I couldn’t help but re­mind him how he had al­ready shared this very same fun fact with me in an ear­lier let­ter. He took it well. “Def­i­nitely a sign of ad­vanc­ing years when I start re­peat­ing my ging­ham crush.” Still it was cruel of me, un­nec­es­sary, and hyp­o­crit­i­cal, too. Be­cause now I find my­self want­ing to tell you some­thing I fear I may have al­ready in a pre­vi­ous col­umn. About Madonna. That we share a birth­day. It was the Thurs­day be­fore last, our spe­cial day, and I thought of her, as I al­ways do. Ex­cept this birth­day was a par­tic­u­larly sig­nif­i­cant one for her. A mile­stone. Her 60th. I have al­ways taken so­lace in the knowledge Madonna — that hell­raiser, that sex bomb — has 16 ex­act years on me. If she can do it, so can I; along that vein. But 60? I know, I know, it’s just a num­ber, but it seems wrong, some­how.

Aware of my pre­oc­cu­pa­tion with the age­ing process, Peter had some sage ad­vice. “Never be jeal­ous of some­one younger,” he wrote, “they, too, are headed down the same path you tread.” It was the sort of sim­ple truth that, once pointed out, you can­not be­lieve had never oc­curred to you to put in so many words your­self. He’s right, while I study those who are older than me, I envy those younger. It is their ig­no­rance I covet. Ac­cord­ing to stud­ies, chil­dren start to grasp death’s fi­nal­ity only around the age of 4 and it’s later still be­fore they be­gin to com­pre­hend its uni­ver­sal­ity. None­the­less, even when the re­al­i­sa­tion your time on Earth is fi­nite does sink in, I reckon most of us, deep down, con­tinue to cher­ish a se­cret hope that some­how we are unique, that we alone will live for­ever and ever.

But, I get it now. I re­ally do. While more con­fi­dent, less anx­ious (be­lieve it or not) than I ever was in my 20s, I no longer feel like the world is my oys­ter. At 44 it has dawned on me I prob­a­bly won’t ac­com­plish every­thing I’d dreamed I would, visit ev­ery cor­ner of the globe I’d imag­ined I would. Re­cently a friend in­vited me to travel some­where with her, some­where fab­u­lous and ex­otic, some­where I’ve al­ready been, and I couldn’t un­der­stand why I was so tepid on it, un­til it oc­curred to me that I have to choose now. That, given nei­ther time nor funds are un­lim­ited, if I do this then I can’t/won’t do that.

Con­ceiv­ably it’s a good thing. Cer­tainly there can be a sense of re­lief in this re­fin­ing of op­por­tu­ni­ties, in ac­cept­ing you’re never go­ing to be a rock star, or even win a karaoke com­pe­ti­tion, be­cause, let’s face it, you’re a rub­bish singer. And maybe this is what it re­ally means to be a grown-up; maybe it in­di­cates a self-aware­ness that only comes with ma­tu­rity. But then, too, I have watched as my grand­mother has grad­u­ally lost the abil­ity to do the things that have her whole life given her plea­sure. When her dwin­dling eye­sight drove her to give up sew­ing and flo­ral art, she took up mak­ing birth­day cards. “I’m afraid it’s my swansong,” she said, pre­sent­ing me with this year’s ver­sion. “It’s too hard.” Sorry, but no mat­ter how you look at it, that sucks.


When a teenager, John be­lieved he would be bet­ter than his fa­ther, dif­fer­ent. “As the decades rolled by I have found my­self on many oc­ca­sions look­ing in the mir­ror and say­ing, ‘Hi, Dad’. And it doesn’t have much to do with phys­i­cal ap­pear­ance! I don’t think we can do much about our ge­netic in­her­i­tance or the ef­fects of our up­bring­ing. It’s just there. All of it.” For his part, Fran­cis found last week’s col­umn laugh­able. “Give it up,” he urged. Ob­vi­ously, the fact you are read­ing this page to­day means I was un­able to ful­fill his re­quest. How­ever, he did ask some­thing else of me. “You are in this for the money and no num­ber of long words and con­fus­ing metaphors will do you any jus­tice … I beg you to take a break from writ­ing for Can­vas and im­prove your style. I look for­ward to next week’s piece and hope­fully my name in the ‘Fol­low­ing on’ section.”

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