From the author of Writing a Woman's Life comes an inspirational reflection on aging and the gift of life in your 70s and beyond.
When she was young, distinguished author and critic Carolyn Heilbrun solemnly vowed to end her life when she turned seventy. But on the advent of that fateful birthday, she realized that her golden years had been full of unforeseen pleasures. Now, the astute and ever-insightful Heilbrun muses on the emotional and intellectual insights that brought her "to choose each day for now, to live." There are reflections on her new house and her sturdy, comfortable marriage; sweet solitude and the pleasures of sex at an advanced age; the fascination with e-mail and the joy of discovering unexpected friends. Even the encroachments of loss, pain, and sadness that come with age cannot spoil Heilbrun's moveable feast. They are merely the price of bountiful living.
The word "gift" in German means "poison" and, to a linguist, the title might imply some bitterness. Heilbrun, former Columbia University English professor and noted literary critic, is a woman who obviously chooses her words well. Threading through the 15 essays is the theme of her youthful intention to commit suicide when she turned 70; several of the chapters convey the tone of an apologia for not having done so. The essays reflect and resonate with the general female experience of growing old: comfort in established family and home, loss of socially construed femininity, and a certain resentment at having been too often ignored or dismissed by the prevailing (male-dominated) culture. Heilbrun (The Education of a Woman) concedes that the past was probably not better than the present, only different, and looks to the young, especially her children, to teach the significance of those differences: "Those gentler times to which we old hark back imprisoned and excluded too many of us." In her most poignant chapter, "The Family Lost and Found," Heilbrun tells of her rediscovery of the courageous and intelligent immigrant women who were part of her father's family, although he had not seen fit to tell his only daughter about them. Her rediscovery of that lost half of her family, late in her life, was both encouraging and bittersweet. Heilbrun offers observations and stories, not lessons or polemics, but she is a perceptive witness to the vagaries of life.