Measured Extravagance

2000-11-24 - 12:24:50

I am not a devoted fan of either the criticism or novels of Carolyn G. Heilbrun (known to readers of mysteries as Amanda Cross) but I found myself enjoying The Last Gift of Time: Life Beyond Sixty for its meditations and insights into dogs, houses, biographies, authors (May Sarton, Sylvia Townsend Warner and others), clothing, and aging. I especially appreciated her ruminations on marriage and pet-ownership when one is a "solitary":

"There is no commitment that does not bring with it its own tensions, and its own ambivalences. Bianca [her dog], lying beside me as I write, has had her costs, but she fulfills a need I did not earlier believe I had, and whose depth I have been astonished to discover."

And then there is her quiet eloquence on death, which is in its way a cousin to my raisons d'ecrire:

"Sadness ultimately resides in the knowledge that all this, all I look upon, will continue unchanged when I am no longer here to see it. Oddly, I think of it in those terms, rather than simply regretting my absence from these scenes. I suspect this is characteristic of sadness in the last years. The idea of death, of one's disappearance from the stage, evokes the regret that these eyes, this appreciation, this particular apperception, will be gone from the world, not that I will not be here. Perhaps this seems hardly a distinction, more a matter of splitting hairs: perhaps it is. But will anyone again look at that tree, read that poem, love a dog in quite my way? I am a particular and, despite the commonness of all people, a unique person in the way I perceive and think and appreciate, and I am sad that this particularity shall before too long be gone. This is not arrogance; it is the simple truth, known to anyone who has loved a person dead in the fullness of her life: what we will is that particularity, that unique voice."

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