Not that oldFeb 7th, 2012 | By Ian Poulton | Category: Personal Columns
Discussion at the meeting turned to a cottage in need of repair. ‘The windows shouldn’t need that much attention, should they? They don’t appear to be that old’.
‘Oh, they are, Rector, they must have been put in around 1960’.
‘Thank you’, I smiled, ‘I was born in 1960; that is not old!’
‘Ah, Rector’, he said, ‘don’t worry. You’ve a while yet before you catch up with me’.
At least a generation older than me, fresh-faced and with a great head of wavy, white hair, he is still farming. To be as young as him at his age will be a challenge.
The exchange brought thoughts of lines from a passage in the opening chapter of Milan Kundera’s Immortality, lines to which I have often returned, lines which capture that sense of timelessness that many of us have:
‘She passed the lifeguard, and after she had gone some three or four steps beyond him, she turned her head smiled, and waved to him. At that instant I felt a pang in my heart! That smile and that gesture belonged to a twenty-year-old girl! Her arm rose with bewitching ease. It was as if she were playfully tossing a brightly coloured ball to her lover. That smile and that gesture had charm and elegance, while the face and the body no longer had any charm. It was the charm of a gesture drowning in the charmlessness of the body. But the woman, though she must of course have realized that she was no longer beautiful, forgot that for the moment. There is a certain part of all of us that lives outside of time. Perhaps we become aware of our age only at exceptional moments and most of the time we are ageless. In any case, the instant she turned, smiled, and waved to the young lifeguard (who couldn’t control himself and burst out laughing), she was unaware of her age. The essence of her charm, independent of time, revealed itself for a second in that gesture and dazzled me. I was strangely moved.’
While the laughter of the young lifeguard in the story points at the ridiculousness of trying to pretend one is not one’s age, the woman’s action must find resonance with many people who feel that their outward appearance is not a reflection of their inner age, that what people see is not the whole story.
‘I was strangely’, moved says the narrator in Kundera’s story; he seems almost to feel a sense of pathos at this woman of advancing years behaving as if she were twenty.
Perhaps, age is external, but the exceptional moments when it is noticeable seem to come more frequently.