Finished reading the Lionel Shriver book ‘The Motion of the Body Through Space’. I loved it and it was a story that I really related to – about a retired couple in their early sixties both trying to stave off the inevitable physical decline, both searching for meaning in later life but in very different ways. I found myself watery eyed at the following passages, no spoilers I promise.
To the casual eye she hadn’t changed all that drastically now that she no longer devoted ninety tiresome minutes of every evening to keeping in shape. But she knew the difference. She was an increment thicker. When she stood and rested the tips of her fingers on a thigh, it was no longer firm. She missed the rippling play of light across her shoulders, but arthritis in her wrists ruled out push-ups… She remembered her body of a few years with the wistful, faintly puzzled fondness of a good friend with whom, through no fault on either’s party’s part, she’d lost touch. She had been fortunate to have been strong, energetic, even fetching … she was fortunate to have ever had a day. But that part of her life that enabled being looked at, if largely looking at herself, was over. It was fair. Now other people got to have their day. For your day to be over might have been disappointing, but it wasn’t tragic.
For the key to the “bucket-list” wasn’t to systematically check off its to-do items, but to bring yourself to throw the list away. There was a thrill in letting go of the whole she-bang – reluctantly, then gleefully. There was a thrill to defying by degrees.
Not giving a shit
She advanced toward the apathy with open arms. She wasn’t about to advertise the fact – the argument wasn’t worth having – but [she] was not obliged to give a flying fig about climate change, species extinction, or nuclear proliferation. The best thing about getting old was basking in this great big not-giving-a-shit. Younger folks … would decry her happy boredom with all the looming threats that exercised them as criminally irresponsible and unforgivably callous. Marvellously, nothing she did exerted any appreciable influence on the rest of the world … She didn’t like other people much, nor they her. She didn’t plan on worrying about the fate for her fellows as she met her own. Aging was proving one long holiday. She was harmless – although she’d be the first to agree that she and her heedless ilk should probably be denied the vote. The future didn’t need her, and she didn’t need it. Others behind would discover it soon enough: the bliss of sublime indifference.
Searching for meaning
Their lives were almost over, and the finality has a sweet side. A burden has been lifted. The decisions still to be made were few. If the main story was over, all that remained was wrap-up – the luxurious and largely gratuitous tying up of loose ends, like looping satin ribbon around a Tiffany box. Wastefully [her husband] had grown convinced that he had something to prove at the very age at which he should have been discarding the whole idea of proving anything to anyone. Because really, who cared? In due course, no one would remember that they’d lived at all, much less remember whatever they’d accomplished or failed to accomplish. Acceptance that their lives had now mostly been lived didn’t have to be depressing either. The recognition could involve a reflective aspect, a wonderment, a cherishing of all that had gone before.
I’m not saying I agree with all of the above but it made me think and her thoughts around acceptance resonated, made me feel happier and just a little less intense.