I just finished reading the “Fiction” section of last week’s New Yorker. I haven’t enjoyed reading these submissions as much over the past year or so. Too bizarre at times. The selection process seemed to be skewed in a direction which didn’t necessarily appeal to me. I read them anyway.
This submission was good. The author, Denis Johnson, mused about circumstances into which the main character found himself thrust over the course of the past few years, with some flashbacks to earlier life. He called it “The Largesse of the Sea Maiden” and the illustration suggested that it had something to do with mermaids. There was even a section of the story entitled “Mermaid,” but there was never actually a mermaid in the story…only a lonely woman who felt trapped in a bar. I’m glad. I don’t get mermaids. Never did, and probably never will.
In one of the last paragraphs of his very fine short story, Johnson says something that struck me. The character muses that it is suddenly clear to him that his life has a newly-dicovered pattern:
I note that I’ve lived longer in the past, now, than I can expect to live in the future. I have more to remember than I have to look forward to. Memory fades, not much of the past stays, and I wouldn’t mind forgetting a lot more of it.” (p. 69)
I read that paragraph several times before I went on to the conclusion of the story. I could have said that…but not as well as Johnson said it. It must be something that people my age realize all the time. But I’ve never put it out there as bluntly as Johnson has. It’s a point worth noting…not so much for me about the past as the future. What is it that I have to look forward to in these latest years of my life? What must I do to have an impact upon them? It’s more than my “bucket list” (for which I have great affection.)
Much of what will happen in my life to come is not so much about what I plan for myself. Much of it is in the hands of others. I need to choose carefully about who it will be that impacts my life to come. It can’t be quite as random as it has been in the past. After all, one of the privileges given to “older people” is that they are not as bound to convention as they were in their formative years.
People are amused when a 90 year old marries, or when an older woman chooses to color her hair purple or green. A couple who sell their home and buy a fancy recreation vehicle and start travelling around the country receive worrisome frowns upon foreheads of children. Mumbles of dementia and irresponsibility are passed among siblings.
But it doesn’t even have to be dramatic. Choices can be mundane, but if they are important to someone my age, they count. What’s the big deal if I want to watch my favorite programs on television instead of going to a lecture at the University? Why not publish a controversial story? Why not start a new business in her 70’s? Maybe it really is time to get that convertible that has been dreamed about for years. Writing that blast of a letter to the editor instead of stewing over an issue isn’t all problematic.
Musing is a darned good thing to do…especially on a cold, grey day in March…especially on Ash Wednesday.