Age puzzles me. I thought it was a quiet time. My seventies were interesting, and fairly serene, but my eighties are passionate. I grow more intense as I age.
I have had this book on my shelf for ages. But as I move into the years she wrote about, her seventies and eighties, I decided to finally read Florida Scott-Maxwell’s, The Measure of My Days. It’s a quiet book, with many thoughts about her daily life, about aging, and about death. I do not live alone at this point, but I am touched by her thoughts on aging and being alone, and think of my mother and how she handled those years. I see them coming ahead of me, sooner than I would like, and look for guidance and wisdom to help me along. And she most definitely has wisdom and guidance to share with me! Here are a few examples of some of her thoughts that resonated with me…
I wonder if living alone makes one more alive. No precious energy goes in disagreement or compromise. No need to augment others, there is just yourself, just truth—a morsel—and you. You went through those long years when it was pain to be alone, now you have come out on the good side of that severe discipline. Alone you have your own way all day long, and you become very natural. Perhaps this naturalness extends into heights and depths, going further than we know; as we cannot voice it we must just treasure it as the life that enriches our days.
It is not easy to be sure that being yourself is worth the trouble, but we do know it is our sacred duty.
The crucial task of age is balance, a veritable tightrope of balance; keeping just well enough, just brave enough, just gay and interested and starkly honest enough to remain a sentient human being.
When a new disability arrives I look about to see if death has come, and I call quietly, “Death, is that you? Are you there?”. So far the disability has answered, “Don’t be silly, it’s me.”
I want to tell people approaching and perhaps fearing old age that it is a time of discovery. If they say “Of what?” I can only answer “We must find out for ourselves, otherwise it wouldn’t be discovery.”
One cannot be honest even at the end of one’s life, for no one is wholly alone. We are bound to those we love, or to those who love us, and to those who need us to be brave, or content, or even happy enough to allow them not to worry about us. So we must refrain from giving pain, as our last gift to our fellows.
When I bought the book, I hadn’t heard of her, I just liked the concept of the book. So, for those of you who have never heard of her, either, I’m including a short biography of Florida Scott-Maxwell from The Poem Hunter.com:
Florida Pier was born in Orange Park, Florida, and educated at home until the age of ten. She grew up in Pittsburgh, then moved to New York at age 15 to become an actress. In 1910 she married John Scott Maxwell and moved to her husband’s native Scotland, where she worked for women’s suffrage and as a playwright. The couple divorced in 1929 and she moved to London. In 1933 she studied Jungian psychology under Carl Jung and practised as an analytical psychologist in both England and Scotland. She died in Exeter, England. Her most famous book is The Measure of My Days (1968).
I chose to read this book as one of my 50-books-in-5-years for The Classics Club.