Thursday, April 17, 2008

Barbarous Middle Age

"Of all the barbarous middle ages, that
Which is most barbarous is the middle age
Of man; it is -- I really scarce know what;
But when we hover between fool and sage,
And don't know justly what we would be at --
A period something like a printed page,
Black letter upon foolscap, while our hair
Grows grizzled, and we are not what we were; --

"Too old for youth, -- too young, at thirty-five,
To herd with boys, or hoard with good threescore, --
I wonder people should be left alive;
But since they are, that epoch is a bore:
Love lingers still, although 't were late to wive;
And as for other love, the illusion's o'er;
And money, that most pure imagination,
Gleams only through the dawn of its creation."

- Byron, Don Juan, Twelfth Canto

The picture is a yucca recurvifolia at the Garden.

Not to quibble, but middle age is not an age you can specify until the day you die. If I had died when I was 20, my middle age would have been the year I was ten. If I live to be a hundred, middle age would have been 50, and it’s way too late for me to cry over that lost year. It may be true that today I’m older than I’ve ever been before, but once I survive today, it will be slowly buried beneath the sediment of tomorrow, and tomorrow and tomorrow, creeping in at a pretty steady pace.

A year ago I was leaving Savannah, after a rejuvenating visit with sisters and a day spa. We each bought one of those flying screaming monkeys and spent our last evening in the B&B finishing all the grocery store wine we’d purchased and shooting our monkeys through the air at one another. Then, we drunk called several nieces and nephews, who each reacted to our calls in various ways befitting their upbringing. I called my favorite nephew and, in my official hospital administrator voice I told him that his mother was in our emergency room raving about her wasted youth and was not for this world. He replied in a calm and gentle voice, and with a wisdom beyond his years: “Then just let her go.”

Good times.

Today, I helped my Tech Support Guy tighten the shade cloth over the fragile Japanese Maples that are already starting to scorch from the four inch sliver of sun that caresses them every day. By tightening the shade cloth, we narrowed the sliver of sunshine to zero, and now not a drop of unfiltered sun can reach their precious little leaves. Now, all I have to do is hand water them every single day without fail, and they’ll survive another summer in a climate they were never meant to inhabit.

If I live to be 70, then like Don Juan, my middle age would have been 35. Sitting beneath my straightened and re-fastened shade cloth, sweating in a climate I was destined to inhabit, I find myself closer to the fools side of the equation than the sage. I try in vain to recall what I did on this date the year I was 35. Perhaps I was just never destined to experience such a long dotage. At least I can still remember last year.

1 comment:

greeny said...

Somtimes I come and read your blog in a hurry and I think "I have to come back and read this slowly". Then I leave and come back when I can savor your meanings.
I'm back.
I read and savored. I love the story of the sisters and the drunk phone calls.
Marching time. It scares me but what do do? I don't want to worry but can't help myself. I want to spend my remaining time brilliantly. Maybe that's too much to ask...