I love the surprising lack of regret or insecurity when it comes to loss in Roger Angell’s piece “Life in the Nineties”. We have all experienced loss and disappointment, and I think the amazing thing about this piece is the sincere joy he describes in the thick of loss – however fleeting- when we have a connection to another person. From his elementary school friends, to his daughter who passed away, his 1st wife, his neighbors with their inappropriate yet hilarious joke, these people seem to be in the room with him.
While the idea of fleeting but powerful memories has been presented many times, I think it’s worth taking another look at. Maybe it just speaks to me right now, as new friends enter my life, and others stay in the years before, and I don’t know how to make sense of it. Even though I’ve heard the line, we will always have … many times, I don’t think it meant much to me.
But Angell shows us that memory means sitting in your living room, drinking a Dewer’s and you see the image of someone you loved in the couch in front of you. The phone rings and you remember your daughter’s voice quick and rushed on the telephone. Intimacy is noticing the way your loved one’s way of laughing is surprisingly with more of a face than a noise. The word memory and the word intimacy does nothing like Angell’s piece does for them.
“The dead have departed, but gestures and glances and tones of voice of theirs, even scraps of clothing—that pale-yellow Saks scarf—reappear unexpectedly, along with accompanying touches of sweetness or irritation.”
“Our dead are almost beyond counting and we want to herd them along, pen them up somewhere in order to keep them straight. I like to think of mine as fellow-voyagers crowded aboard the Île de France (the idea is swiped from “Outward Bound”). Here’s my father, still handsome in his tuxedo, lighting a Lucky Strike. There’s Ted Smith, about to name-drop his Gloucester home town again. Here comes Slim Aarons. Here’s Esther Mae Counts, from fourth grade: hi, Esther Mae…. I look around for others and at times can almost produce someone at will. Callie returns, via a phone call. “Dad?” It’s her, all right, her voice affectionately rising at the end—“Da-ad?”—but sounding a bit impatient this time. She’s in a hurry.”
“We’ve outgrown our ambitions. If our wives or husbands are still with us, we sense a trickle of contentment flowing from the reliable springs of routine, affection in long silences, calm within the light boredom of well-worn friends, retold stories, and mossy opinions. Also the distant whoosh of a surfaced porpoise outside our night windows.”
“Getting old is the second-biggest surprise of my life, but the first, by a mile, is our unceasing need for deep attachment and intimate love. We oldies yearn daily and hourly for conversation and a renewed domesticity, for company at the movies or while visiting a museum, for someone close by in the car when coming home at night. This is why we throng Match.com and OkCupid in such numbers—but not just for this, surely. Rowing in Eden (in Emily Dickinson’s words: “Rowing in Eden— / Ah—the sea”) isn’t reserved for the lithe and young, the dating or the hooked-up or the just lavishly married, or even for couples in the middle-aged mixed-doubles semifinals, thank God. No personal confession or revelation impends here, but these feelings in old folks are widely treated like a raunchy secret. The invisibility factor—you’ve had your turn—is back at it again. But I believe that everyone in the world wants to be with someone else tonight, together in the dark, with the sweet warmth of a hip or a foot or a bare expanse of shoulder within reach. Those of us who have lost that, whatever our age, never lose the longing: just look at our faces. If it returns, we seize upon it avidly, stunned and altered again.”
“This is a great question, an excellent insurance-plan choice, I mean. I think it’s in the Affordable Care Act somewhere. Take it from us, who know about the emptiness of loss, and are still cruising along here feeling lucky and not yet entirely alone.”