a long life

August 5th, 2014

Day after day, day after still day,
The summer has begun to pass away.

When my husband walked past me on the way to work this morning, he asked what I was going to do today.

I did not say what I was really going to do, such as “Wash a week’s worth of towels” or “Iron that clean white shirt of Georgia’s that ended up in the laundry just because it got wrinkled in her suitcase,” or “Make Katrina Kenison’s favorite recipe for gazpacho.” No, I didn’t say any of those things because they seemed trivial compared to the daily march of important activities in which I am no longer employed.

Instead what I said was, “Clean out a few closets.” And I saw the shadow of terror briefly crease my husband’s face, the shadow that crosses whenever I throw out what to him is safely out of sight. By my thinking, closets are where things go to die, and by die I mean lose vitality and disappear from use. Such is my ambition in this eighth month of every year as summer slows and autumn knocks. I become a teeny bit preoccupied with cleaning off the shelves. It’s my thing.

A failing light, no longer numinous,

Now frames the long and solemn afternoons

Where butterflies regret their closed cocoons.

I have just a few closets in my small house and they are in awful shape because I have now lived here longer than I’ve ever lived anywhere. As long, and soon longer, than I lived with my parents. Longer than the time spent with my grandparents, whose undying devotion gave me an eternity of perfect memories. Longer than any home I fled or wrecked. A very long time, and the closets show the count.

When I was packing week before last for a family vacation I went hunting for umbrellas, having seen the forecast, and found our “new” umbrellas encased in grime from layers of daily dust creeping through a slender crack in the closet door. Where in the world do closeted umbrellas get dirty through lack of use? My house, that’s where, in the closet I’m aiming for.

But that’s not what this post is about. I will get to the closets, or someone will. This post is about time. I’m feeling it, aren’t you?

Time, time, time. Next week my precious rosebud of a daughter turns 15. Next month I’ll be 58. We are so blessed.

A few years ago I was giving a talk in Boston at which, without shame, I called myself “an old lady.” A lovely woman wearing a look of discomfort raised her hand.

“Why do you keep calling yourself old?” she asked.

“Because I am.”

“But look at you,” she said, as a compliment.

“I feel as though I’ve lived a thousand years,” I said, “and I am satisfied.”

What’s wrong with being old? More to the point, when did age become an insult? It is liberating to open the doors, sweep the shelves and discard what is no longer enlivened by use. To face the present day and the plain, pure facts in front of us.

We reach the place unripe, and made to know

As with a sudden knowledge that we go

Away forever, all hope of return

Cut off, hearing the crackle of the burn-
ing blade behind us, and the terminal sound

Of apples dropping on the dry ground.

I watched a beautiful film on the plane last Sunday, and then commenced a quasi-obsession with Coco Chanel. She was a captivating ingénue, a force of nature, a cultural legend, and she lived until she was a very old lady of 87. She died not sick, but working — and hers was the work of scissors and straight pins. She made a full, long life of doing the simplest things again and again until she was satisfied.

After a week’s trek through some of the great monuments of Western civilization, I came home from vacation to a dry, needy yard and three full laundry hampers. Four loads and three hours of weeding and I was sated. Not done, not by far, but feeling utterly content and alive. Summer nearly gone, and I’m living well past it. To the closets I come.

Excerpts from the poem “Summer’s Elegy” by Howard Nemerov
Photo: Musée d’Orsay, Paris

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  1. Very powerful post that goes completely against the grain of modern consumer culture that fears time.

    Comment by Neil — August 5, 2014 @ 6:13 pm

  2. I too am feeling time passing. I turn 59 next week. I just tucked my beautiful grands in for the night, stroking Gabbys cheek and almost dizzy at the thought that 11 years have passed since she was a serious little baby, come to live with Gramma and Papa. I love every thing you write, but this moved me beyond measure.

    Comment by marcea — August 5, 2014 @ 6:30 pm

  3. lovely lovely lovely
    as always
    thank you Maezen

    Comment by patti zwick — August 6, 2014 @ 2:29 am

  4. I had to look at my closet when I finish reading your post. Wow. Not only I saw clutter but you made me think of time. Not just because I remembered certain events with specific clothes. But I wonder why I bought this and that. What matters back then? As it does not make sense now.
    Thank you so much for writing about age and time. I am very satisfied that I have lived so far and I do feel like I lived a lot. I am alive and want to live so much more. But I love that every year I am granted a birthday and a new age cycle to enjoy.

    Comment by Paola — August 6, 2014 @ 2:41 am

  5. Age, time, closets, summer’s end, good sentences, gazpacho: you are reading my mind, inhabiting my heart, hearing my soul whisper. As always.

    Comment by Katrina Kenison — August 6, 2014 @ 6:02 am

  6. Oh, Maezen, one of my favorite posts of yours. Beautifully said and it speaks to my heart. I made gazpacho yesterday (cucumbers, grapes, cashews, and it was to die for) and cleaned out a closet day before. (I do this when my husband is out of town. ;-)) Anyway, we have small closets, too. It is one thing about this house I have always resented. But the other day I realized my life doesn’t need big closets. I don’t need or want so much stuff! Now I have some beautiful things to give away …

    Much love and gratitude for the wisdom.

    Comment by Clare — August 6, 2014 @ 8:04 am

  7. I feel the need to clear closets too, and sweep, and mop, and simplify.

    Next month my baby turns 7!! Wow.

    Comment by Kathryn — August 9, 2014 @ 4:37 pm

  8. getting my hair cut I try to explain, at nearly 50 I have earned the right to my grey hair, I have had a good life and I am ready to wear my age as the silver that I am becoming….this young gal doing the cut just couldn’t understand and reiterated that what I needed was some color, at least some highlights….yes, I agree, at 50, my color, proudly, is grey. I am so grateful to be this age, to be here.

    Comment by MJ — August 10, 2014 @ 4:57 pm

  9. I love that Orsay clock… I have an almost identical picture of my children standing in front of it from earlier this summer! Thanks for the gentle words about age… I’m staring down a new decade to enter in a few months… and I am blessed. Thank you.

    Comment by Sarah Rudell Beach — August 11, 2014 @ 6:22 am

  10. Yes! I always say: “The only way to stay alive is by becoming older.” I never understood this fetish for youth and rejection of age. Ofcourse I see the ravishing beauty in young people, but I remember how beautiful my mother was at any age. Her beauty was her aliveness and love for life that beamed from her every day. It made everybody forget her wrinkles (and surprised by her age -a well kept secret- at her funeral).

    Comment by Simone — August 15, 2014 @ 3:27 am

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