It is a glorious quiet sunny autumn day, and I have a glass of Shiraz in my hand. My favorite praying mantis goggles at me from the turning leaves of the Virginia
creeper on my balcony. Soon the mantis will disappear, who knows where, and winter will come. I will strip down from the balcony and prune the empty vine stems, and later tonight I will get my torch and check out the huge golden orb spider that hangs glimmering in the torchlight between the balcony and the climbing rose. She, too, will soon disappear with the cold weather. These are my
broader waters of age, a quiet bliss. Which leads me to think of an event I recently attended.
On the evening of April 8th at the Wheeler Centre, Barry Jones was interviewed by
Jill Singer. He was to speak about aging, but with Barry the conversation can go
anywhere. And did, as he spoke about his passion for literature and the arts.
At one point, Jill Singer asked about Barry’s personal life. Did his passion for the
arts extend to the more personal passion of romantic love? Did he regret not
having children? Could the Stendhal effect of which he spoke be likened to a kind
of orgasm? Yes, she really did say this.
Barry Jones seemed ill at ease with her personal line of questioning. The
audience also seemed uncomfortable and restive. We were surely here to hear of
Barry’s interests in the field of arts, education philosophy, to enjoy his broad
intelligence, and to hear about his thoughts on aging, not to pry into his private
life. In a single sigh, the audience expressed its lack of interest in the irrelevant
private life of Barry Jones. The audience applauded. I mean, where had she been
going with this?
I looked around the audience. We were mainly all of a certain age. The Third
Age. And that, to me, was the answer. Age difference. When younger, we would
have been fascinated with romantic love, and with our children. We must tread
these paths in life when younger, but they are narrow paths. If we have children
we are taken up with the miracle of their growth and development, which we
must, as parents, foster. We are never so boring as when obsessed by the antics
of our young. Or, for that matter, with our new romance. Surely romantic love is
narcissistic, as we become enraptured, as did Narcissus, with our own image,
projected or echoed, in the other? We recognize the perceived beauty of our own
selves in the other and we feed off this. We transform the beloved to a very god.
We give up tending our own gods, those activities that are uniquely our own, that
shape, feed and structure our very being.
And the god in the other must inevitably disappoint. Like the snake swallowing
its tail, this passion feeds on itself, finds itself irresistible, until there is no more
energy and life left. Cut off from outside, it doesn’t replenish itself. It is often an
inappropriate, thrilling and irresistible edge to such passion. It seldom ends well.
Limerence clouds rationality and judgment, narrowing our perception. We are
not ourselves, but prey to a kind of malady of mind. We are obsessed. If we are
lucky, when the tide turns, we can be left with a nucleus of truth that can build
into something kinder, deeper, more truly loving than romance which is intent
only on its own voracious satisfaction, blind to the world around it, and even to
the beloved who, in the line of fire, becomes the fuel to this narcissism. As older
individuals, I feel the audience was interested in the concerns appropriate to our
age. Limerence fades, kids are now adults, and the messiness of romantic love
has long been resolved. We are interested in broader fields, a life of the mind, of
philosophy, of culture and the arts.
Those younger interests narrow our vision to the point where, as Barry put it,
‘the urgent takes precedence over the important.’ He used this phrase when
describing his frustration at trying to interest the government back in the
seventies in the urgency of population climate change and refugees. So now,
issues of climate change and refugees remain unaddressed while people and
parties are concerned only in what would keep them in power. Fascination with
self-importance and the small picture. Barry Jones expressed the frustration he
felt while in government, at the circular self-eating politics that ignore the
important for the urgent—to stay in power by doing what is perceived as
popular. Once we embraced the Kosovar refugees, and now, because of fear
mongering and demonization from our political leaders, we abhor the preset
refugees as desperate as dangerous. Perhaps our leaders need not only to grow
up, but to add a bit of old age and maturity to their mix.
(Above image of Barry Jones courtesy Mal Vickers / Wikimedia)