Wednesday 27 August 2008

Growing soft

"The easy path of aging is to become a thick-skinned
, unbudging curmudgeon, a battle-axe. To grow soft and sweet is the harder way."

James Hillman
from The Force of Character and the Lasting Life

via Whiskey River - apposite as ever.

Yesterday I saw some old friends I hadn't seen for years. They no longer live in England. I'm always pleased by the thought of seeing them, pleased but also apprehensive. They are deep, complex people, not superficial, and once we knew each other rather well.
Supposing one of them asked: So how are you these days? How are you, really? They probably wouldn't ask. Our contact now, after all, is scanty, more an honouring of memories than anything. But supposing they asked?

I might make light of the question: Ah, as I get older I'm less and less able to answer that. Don't you find the same? Or I might find myself saying: Not so good. It's so hard. Why does it not get easier? Although I still feel I keep growing, getting stronger, it only gets harder.

I might say: You know, I think what it is, however fucked up and stunted you are, if you stick at life, keep trying not to turn away, not to harden your heart, not to hate and blame everyone but yourself, you slowly get stronger and more sorted. You take more and more pleasure in music, literature, nature. The colours of the world get sharper, even as your eyes grow dimmer. What's more, though, your defences keep falling away and your loneliness and failure, entrenched since you were young - my loneliness and failure - hurt more and more. Would I put the defences back? I don't think so. But it hurts.

They didn't quite ask. Or rather, they sort of asked. And I sort of gave a 'what... doing' , not a 'how... being' answer. And then we talked of other things. But if they were interested, they'll have seen the answer in my face, I suppose, as I saw in their faces much more than we spoke of.


YourFireAnt said...

That's what I might say. Look in my eyes. Watch me dance.


Anonymous said...


Rosie said...

I would like to be able to say that I am becoming softer and sweeter as I age but it is not so.These days, I wont take any nonsense from anyone, as I used to in my insecure youth, but I have love to give as well. I wouldnt say I was sorted though...the abyss is never very far away...

Anonymous said...

That was a beautiful piece of writing, and it has a lot of resonance for me. But maybe they read between the lines after all?


Zhoen said...

Perhaps, after all, that is what death is for. An end to suffering, in great age, when the capacity to cope and the amount of difficulty can no longer keep apace. But, knowing the race was well run, the joy always a step or two ahead, or no more than a step or two behind, makes it worth the struggle.

Dale said...

I don't think it just keeps getting harder, though. I think you keep trying harder and harder things.

My sense of it, for what it's worth, is that you've come further and faster than you think, and that you're through the hardest part.

But anyway. Yes. It's hard. Life is very hard. I was marveling the other day, thinking, I've led such a protected and eerily fortunate life -- and even this life is terribly hard, sometimes.

leslee said...

Wow. Very nice, Jean.

Probably it's different for different people. I tried harder things when I was younger; too many burnt fingers testing out hot stoves can make you retreat. But you also discover many things to love that you never valued before, so there's richness there.

Dave King said...

A fine piece of writing. A lot to enjoy there.

Patry Francis said...

Beautifully said, Jean. I love your answer to the question that wasn't asked.

Lucy said...

And the sadness that it's harder to ask those questions and answer them honestly, when they've become so much more urgent. I suppose we mind each other's privacy rather.

Like Dale, I feel I've got off lightly, but disappointment and compromise, and the fear that it's slipping away without having really got it sorted out, all seem to stalk.

I wonder if it might be possible to be a soft sweet battle-axe?!