Between Mark and Jan, I’m on a nostalgia kick of late—not that I am ever totally off of a nostalgia kick. Mark was half wishing to return the innocence of childhood, to the magic in a time of dreamlike imagination. I wanted to tell him that it is possible but you need someone like Janet to teach you how to do it.
I do not know what everyone’s childhood was like, I can only relate to the world, to life as I have experienced it. I have often said that I would never want to go back because I would have to be twenty-nine and I would never want to do that ever again. It was well known that people thirty and older could not be trusted and besides I was turning thirty without accomplishing anything of any great lasting value—I am approaching seventy-two as I have approached every birthday since the thirtieth still without having achieved anything of any great value; only now such things are of so little concern. Life is one of the few endeavors in my life where the means is as important, if not more important than the end.
I do find contemplating youth interesting and would love to know what other people near my age think of youth. I know that I have a very narrow viewpoint. Unlike most people that have a dual or possibly a triple experience with youth through their children and grandchildren, I have only experienced youth once.
The most interesting thing from my perspective is that when I was young I thought a great deal about death. Now that I am old and considerably closer to death, I think about life—not about holding on to life but about what it has been, what it has meant. As a kid it seemed like dying was the thing I most wanted, now I’m not nearly so anxious. However, I couldn’t commit suicide because as a Baptist that was an unforgiveable sin. Now I am not sure how I correlated once saved always saved with the damnation of an unforgiveable sin—maybe I didn’t go much into the details because I worked an out, that’s been one of my specialties in life, working an out, finding the loophole and slipping through—now if it was an accident regardless of how much at fault I was for the accident, then maybe it wouldn’t count and I could somehow slip by without the dire repercussions. Pegging the Old Man’s Pontiac seemed a viable solution but it never worked no matter how many times I did it. So I was left with only my somewhat close alternative, the cemetery. In the cemetery I could experience death vicariously.
The cemetery at night was my place of refuge. It was quiet and no one bothered me there. I could cry my eyes out or just contemplate the stars or contemplate everwhat, it didn’t matter why I was there. I thought then that I was alone in such contemplation of death but my second refuge, poetry, teaches me after the fact that I was not really alone… I was only normally abnormal.
Millay wrote, “…Long had I lain thus, craving death, When quietly the earth beneath Gave way, and inch by inch, so great, At last had grown the crushing weight, Into the earth I sank till I, Full six feet under ground did lie, And sank no more,—there is no weight Can follow here, however great. From off my breast I felt it roll, And as it went my tortured soul Burst forth and fled in such a gust That all about me swirled the dust.” She was nineteen when she wrote Renascense. Probably the greatest poem ever written about death was written by a seventeen year old and is considered to be the first great American poem, William Cullen Bryant’s Thanatopsis, “Yet a few days, and thee The all-beholding sun shall see no more In all his course; nor yet in the cold ground, Where thy pale form was laid, with many tears, Nor in the embrace of ocean, shall exist Thy image. Earth that nourished thee, shall claim Thy growth, to be resolved to earth again, And, lost each human trace, surrendering up Thine individual being, shalt thou go To mix for ever with the elements…”
Milay ends with, “…The world stands out on either side No wider than the heart is wide; Above the world is stretched the sky,— No higher than the soul is high. The heart can push the sea and land Farther away on either hand; The soul can split the sky in two, And let the face of God shine through. But East and West will pinch the heart That can not keep them pushed apart; And he, whose soul is flat—the sky Will cave in on him by and by.” And Bryant with, “ …So live, that when thy summons comes to join The innumerable caravan, which moves To that mysterious realm, where each shall take His chamber in the silent halls of death, Thou go not like the quarry-slave at night, Scourged to his dungeon, but sustained and soothed By an unfaltering trust, approach thy grave Like one who wraps the drapery of his couch About him, and lies down to pleasant dreams.”
Although Bryant is slightly more upbeat, neither makes it sound that bad. At seventeen or nineteen or seventy-one, I was and am inclined to agree but I still don’t want to go back. I absolutely love being old with never a need to fight those battles ever again.