Thursday, September 4, 2008

On Turning 50: Addendum

As an afterthought to my original post "On Turning 50", there are two excellent reasons why I neither feel nor look (nor act, for that matter) my age: I don't live anywhere near the places where I grew up and I have no children. I have a good friend in Des Moines, Iowa who has been there, aside from a stint in the Army, all his life. Wherever he goes, he runs into people he has known for thirty or forty years. I have never experienced anything like this. My father was a career soldier, so my family moved about frequently. For example, I attended five different schools in three different cities during eight years of elementary school.

Also, I have no children to mark the passing of the years with their growth, reminding me of when I was their age and generally italicizing my own age with theirs. A good friend of mine has a 16-year-old son who sometimes makes me think he's his father when he answers the phone. This is difficult for me to even imagine, let alone experience.

But I should also add that I never set out to live a conventional life, being satisfied with any of the props or rewards that such a life bestows on one. I have paid a price for this choice, but I believe - so far anyway - that it was worth it. I can agree wholeheartedly with Constantine Cavafy's poem "Addition":

I do not question whether I am happy or unhappy.
Yet there is one thing that I keep gladly in mind -
that in the great addition (their addition that I abhor)
that has so many numbers, I am not one
of the many units there. In the final sum
I have not been calculated. And this joy suffices me.

But rather than base my whole life on a negation, a rejection, I would rather say, with Randall Jarrell:


Star, that looked so long among the stones
And picked from them, half iron and half dirt,
One: and bent and put it to her lips
And breathed upon it till at last it burned
Uncertainly, among the stars its sisters -
Breathe on me still, star, sister.

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