Beautiful essay by Joseph Epstein on his 70th birthday.
Seventy ought to concentrate the mind, as Samuel Johnson said about an appointment with the gallows on the morrow, but it doesn’t–at least, it hasn’t concentrated my mind. My thoughts still wander about, a good part of the time forgetting my age, lost in low-grade fantasies, walking the streets daydreaming pointlessly. (Tolstoy, in Boyhood, writes: “I am convinced that should I ever live to a ripe old age and my story keeps pace with my age, I shall daydream just as boyishly and impractically as an old man of 70 as I do now.”) Despite my full awareness that time is running out, I quite cheerfully waste whole days as if I shall always have an unending supply on hand. I used to say that the minutes, hours, days, weeks, months seemed to pass at the same rate as ever, and it was only the decades that flew by. But now the days and weeks seem to flash by, too. Where once I would have been greatly disconcerted to learn that the publication of some story or essay of mine has been put off for a month or two, I no longer am: the month or two will now come around in what used to seem like a week or two.
I hope this does not suggest that, as I grow older, I am attaining anything like serenity. Although my ambition has lessened, my passions have diminished, my interests narrowed, my patience is no greater and my perspective has not noticeably widened. Only my general intellectual assurance has increased. Pascal says that under an aristocracy “it is a great advantage to have a man as far on his way at 18 or 20 years as another could be at 50; these are 30 years gained without trouble.” To become the intellectual equivalent of an aristocrat in a democracy requires writing 20 or so books–and I have just completed my 19th.
Still, time, as the old newsreels had it, marches on, and the question at 70 is how, with the shot clock running, best to spend it. I am fortunate in that I am under no great financial constraints, and am able to work at what pleases me. I don’t have to write to live–only to feel alive. Will my writing outlive me? I am reasonably certain that it won’t, but–forgive me, Herr Schopenhauer–I keep alive the illusion that a small band of odd but immensely attractive people not yet born will find something of interest in my scribbles. The illusion, quite harmless I hope, gives me –I won’t say the courage, for none is needed — but the energy to persist…
Well worth reading in full.
Thanks to the wonderful Arts and Letters Daily for the link.