Thursday, February 7, 2013

The Day I Buried My Youth

One of the puzzles about growing older is how much to give in versus how much to resist it.  By temperament and upbringing, I am in the camp of the resisters, but am considering a switch.

My mother, who was chronically young into her nineties,  used to say that it was foolish to try to look twenty years younger than you were--the thing to aim for was to look better than everybody else your age. This seems reasonable to me, so I work at it.  I believe in my bones that if I do everything right--if I eat, exercise, meditate and get enough exposure to sunlight--I will, if not avoid aging altogether, then at least do it in the slowest, most dignified possible way.

My age-defying efforts are on the low-tech end of the scale.  I don't dye my hair or inject foreign substances into my anatomy.  But between the walking and the yoga and the vitamins and the meditation--not to mention the growing and cooking of anti-oxidant-rich foods--this staving off of senescence is taking its toll.

I was lying on the sofa after another weary day of fending off the inevitable when I remembered something George Sand (the prolific 19th century French novelist who, like George Eliot, was a woman) wrote when she was sixty-two:  "The day I buried my youth I immediately felt twenty years younger."

And, judging by her letters and diaries, burying her youth worked.  Not only did she write novel after novel and run a large property, she traveled constantly and cultivated friendships with the literary luminaries of her time.  By far the brightest of these was her best buddy, Flaubert. She would visit him for a week at a time and the two would sit up talking about literature until four in the morning.  Despite all my vitamins and yoga, the thought of staying up until dawn talking about literature--with Flaubert no less--makes me feel deeply fatigued.  So maybe George S. was right.

But how does one bury one's youth?   In my childhood, the line of demarcation between young and old was pretty well defined:  old ladies of fifty and over wore black, cut their hair short and said the rosary a lot.  They did not lift weights in gyms or do downward dogs or go on gluten-free diets.

Today women of a certain age gel their hair into short spikes or grow it down to their hips, start on their third or fourth careers, and their prayers consist of reciting mantras while sitting in half lotus pose.  Is this a good thing, or is it bad?  Certainly our generation looks to be in better shape than our grandmothers', but some of us are nervous, exhausted wrecks.  Might there not have been some comfort in knowing exactly how to be old? 

In the twenty-first century, it's hard to figure out just what burying one's youth might entail.  But I intend to keep trying and see if, like it did George S., it makes me feel twenty years younger.

6 comments :

  1. Please let me know how this goes for you (says the 50-year-old lifting weights in gyms and doing downward dogs, not on a gluten-free diet but considering a juice fast). I started on a drug yesterday that feels like it's heralding the start of old age. I'm trying not to feel that way.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Good luck with the fast, if you decide to do it (maybe wait until it gets a little warmer?), and the drug (!). Who knows what old age feels like? My mother used to say that she was 85 before she realized she couldn't do everything she wanted.

      Delete
  2. I want to come sit up all night with you discussing whatever we want to discuss - as soon as your winter blasts pass!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. O.k., as long as I can have a continuous supply of extremely strong coffee.

      Delete
  3. I am not trying to stay young or avoid getting old at all. For me there is no such thing as acting or feeling a certain age. I am who I am and that is just the essence of me packed in this body that I take care of well enough. Hopefully it will last a while. I don't think it's a good idea to be too preoccupied with it. Just let your soul be alive.

    ReplyDelete
  4. Yes, the soul is the important thing after all.

    ReplyDelete