Barry Jones and passion

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)