I have a friend named Felix. He just celebrated his third birthday. My little joke (which I may share with him someday) is that when he is of age, I will dump my current boyfriend and replace him with Felix. Of course, by the time the lad is 20, I'll be 67. I’m envisioning a sort of Harold and Maude arrangement, but with a slightly happier ending.
Not having had children of my own (but four on loan from my current love), it has been easy for me to ignore the passing of the years. I have grow slightly older, but now my niece, my nephews--who have they become? And my parents, always younger parents than anyone else's, finally start to show their ages, in body and attitude. I believe they shared a similar revelation recently when my mother remarked, "How did you get to be as old as us?"
I realized this morning that I might not live long enough to see Felix's children, or even much of his life past his 30th birthday. Regular readers of this irregular blog know that this year has been marked by personal losses, for myself and some close friends. Mortality has firmly asserted itself in my consciousness. A summer wedding helped to suspend the truth for a time, while we celebrated one of life's peaks. Afterwards, I was struck by how much time really has gone by to have gotten to that beautiful point.
One of Shakespeare's Sonnets ends with this familiar couplet:
So long as men can breathe or eyes can see,
So long lives this, and this gives life to thee.
The Immortal Bard was onto something. After all, we feel we know Shakespeare well through his writings, and that he does still live and breathe in them, as does the Beloved (and/or the Dark Lady) to whom so many of the Sonnets are addressed. A book is a Brigadoonish contraption that reawakens every time we crack the spine. It's not a physical life certainly, but maybe something better. It's the kind of everlasting that's even more compatible with our basic design, as I see it.
Every day I compare the importance of doing dishes to spending an hour working on my novel, or revising some poems, using the Hundred Year measure to decide: "In one-hundred years, what will matter?" I don't know if my great-grandmother, Harriet Ingram Mace, was good about housekeeping. I do have dozens of the beautiful doilies she crocheted, and marvel at their fine stitches, charming patterns. A hundred years from now, my dishes, clean or dirty, will probably be in a landfill. The meals they carried will be reduced to compost. Writing is an art that can straddle the centuries. I can reach out to Felix in his old age, and his grandchildren, and although our physical bodies may be no more, our minds will still be able to connect through the words I write today.
I have no illusions about being a Shakespeare, or even the next Violet "Peaches" Watkins. But for me, writing is what eases my basic loneliness. It gives me a sense of purpose that nothing else ever has. It is my art for better or worse, and I am an artist, with all the inner turmoil that implies. As politics and religion fall consistently short of creating the Utopian world (here and hereafter) they promise, art gives us roses in the desert. Here is my rose for Felix, and Russell, Dallas, Jaimee' and all the ones that have come after me. Imperfect, slightly bent stem, a thorn or two, but a rose of words that will never fade.