[EDITORIAL NOTE: In his first guest blog here, Frank Paynter of listics began what was clearly to be a series. Today, he is back with The Three Ages: Part 2 and tomorrow, Part 3. Please give him your usual warm TGB welcome.]
Ronni, thank you for sharing your space at Time Goes By. Last time I did a guest blog post I wrote a little about "my discovery" that Shakespeare's seven ages of man could be collapsed into three: youth, maturity, and the older and sometimes wiser age we're experiencing now.
Alice Walker titled her memoir The Same River Twice. Heraclitus said "You cannot step twice into the same river; for other waters are continually flowing in." The powerful image of a river symbolizing human experience and the flow of life appeals to me on all sorts of levels. It's easy for me to think of life as a one-way boat trip down an ever widening and deepening river. Sometimes it seems like I'm becalmed in a backwater, other times events propel me with a force like a swift current through dangerous rapids.
We all have a common experience of that first age, pushed into the world, cleaned up, nursed and cared for, totally dependent on the love of another, and only able to communicate with our eyes and our cries. And infancy yields to childhood and the nature of the dependency changes, and changes again as childhood gives way to adolescence and we fall in love with another (and likely another) finding our way with our own kind and largely ungrateful for the food, the shelter, the services that others provide us. Our common experiences begin to diverge at our first feeding, but I think it likely that if you are over sixty, you had no first hand experience of disposable diapers in your infancy. So we have that in common. And of those who wore cloth diapers, there are at least two kinds of people... those whose moms were a little klutzy and stuck them with the safety pins, and those who made it past toilet training without that painful experience.
Thomas Wolfe wrote Of Time and the River. When I was a kid, pushing against the elastic boundary where adolescence becomes post adolescence and mature responsibility can be glimpsed from time to time just around the next bend, I read Thomas Wolfe as an assignment in English class. Wolfe of course was brilliantly informed, aware of the roots of western culture and the art of high modernism and romance. I, on the other hand, simply had pimples. Reading Wolfe was a rare opportunity to become informed... who exactly was Orestes? Telemachus? Jason? What of this mixing of Greek and Latin myth, Kronos and Rhea and Faust and Proteus. How did these things tie together. This was a time before Google. Informing oneself was work, and I have to admit that I didn't get much out of these wonderfully complex novels then because I wasn't a very good student. Now in this third age, I can pick up one of those books I barely understood and get so much more out of it. Life experience and long exposure to those cultural allusions colors my understanding.
When I was a child my great-grandfather died. He was in his eighties which means he was born sometime in the decade following the civil war. I remember him as a bald old man who gave the kids slow rides down the lane on the running board of his car. I remember him as a bald waxy figure in a coffin. For adults, death is one of the things we all have in common. It seems trite to say that, but the feelings that we share around the deaths of loved ones, and around each others’ losses do as much to bond us together as the joyful occasions like weddings and birthdays. Winston Rand has a wonderful post about this.
When I was in that first age, death was different from what it is today. Old grandpa in the coffin informed me that eventually we breathe no more. The idea of death was a little frightening, but maybe not as frightening as a bad dream about being chased by a wolf who looked suspiciously like the big dogs that protected the soldier in The Tinder Box.
Growing older, I'm distanced enough from the first age both to see and to forgive the foibles that colored my youth. If there is anything to be said about "the wisdom" of old age, I think that might be its foundation. We have been there, done that, and survived. We know that then we were influenced by things, and exposed to things we couldn't understand. Certainly that is still true. But the understanding of those times past is a reward of aging, even if the current stuff coming at me continues to baffle.