Birthday thoughts

Today I turn 68: not a very memorable age, but within spitting distance of 70, which has to be counted as old age. And yet I don’t feel old. Of course this is commonplace among the ageing, and is part of the armoury of self-delusion which keeps us going. But there’s another reason too. For so much of our life we live through such tumultuous change, as the baby becomes a child, as the youth becomes an adult, as we make our rackety way to a sort of maturity: at which point, or so it seems to me, everything settles down, and from this time onwards, nothing changes. This second part of life began for me at about the age of 40, when I got married and took on the life of a professional writer. As a result I’ve felt much the same age ever since. The thought that I’ve in fact grown older seems not only improbable but unfair. Am I now to endure a dismantling as prolonged and uncomfortable as the making of me?

But there’s another reason why I’m so reluctant to admit to being old, one which lurks beneath the surface and has to be dragged out blinking into the light. Believe it or not, for all my many works produced over the years, I live with the secret conviction that I haven’t yet arrived. My best work is still to come. Like poor mad Lear I cry, ‘I will do such things, what they are, yet I know not: but they shall be the terrors of the earth.’ I have no terrors to offer, but there are wonders in me that have not yet seen the light of day. All that has gone into the making of me, all the hard-won insight, all the long-trained talent, has yet to find its most perfect expression. But it will! The glory awaits! And so, because I haven’t yet arrived, I’m still a learner, I’m still in the process of becoming. In other words, I’m still young.

All nonsense, of course. In my wiser moments I know that my best work is almost certainly behind me. Daylight and reason tell me so. But night and dreams whisper, Just you wait! One morning, perhaps it’ll be tomorrow, I’ll sit down at my desk and take up my pen, and the words will flow out of me like sunlight, all warmth and brilliance, and will not cease until it’s there before me, the best of me, the sum of me, and I’ll lay down my pen and smile and say, At last! I’m ready to go now.