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Beyond the Lone Islands

Tuesday, 14 April 2009

The Age Thing

My "Quotation of the Week" for this week (16/09, see post below), from Ray Bradbury's Dandelion Wine, is from a chapter about a 72 year old woman, who is trying to convince some children, that she, too, was once a little girl their age. She shows them some things she has kept – a ring, a comb, a picture – but they refuse to believe her. There is no proof, in their eyes, that the picture is not of some other person. In the end, it is the old woman who has to give in, remembering a discussion she once had with her husband (it is his words in the quotation). The only way she can become friends with the children is to "let go of her past" and agree with them that she has always been seventy-two:

At last they were good friends.
"How old are you, Mrs. Bentley?"
"How old were you fifty years ago?"

This is of course a little extreme, but dealing with time is a major theme in this novel: both children and old people are looking for ways to preserve their memories as well as catching the moment. (Making dandelion wine is one symbol of it: "Every time you bottle it, you got a whole chunk of 1928 put away, safe." )

When I first entered those lines into my quotation notebook, about being forever "trapped in the present", I was in my mid-twenties. Now I'm approaching my mid-fifties, and I'm still trying to figure out whether I really agree with the quotation or not. I do agree with the first sentence: "No matter how hard you try to be what you once were, you can only be what you are here and now." And probably, when I was nine, I found it hard to quite imagine what it would be like to be old. I do remember my grandmother showing me pictures of herself as a little girl, and finding it hard to really make the connection. As one grows older, though, surely the present self must still include all of the past selves? But at the same time we cannot go back; we cannot skip over the experiences we have already gathered; all we can do is keep adding to them, in the present. "You're in the present, you're trapped in a young now or an old now, but there is no other now to be seen."

Click on the label Dandelion Wine below for more quotes from this book.


Anonymous said...

I think that our past makes us our future. Who would ever want to go back really? I enjoy my time now and look back with fond memories and build from them and continue on. Who needs another now when the now is just that now :)

rae said...

What an interesting post! It's something you never think about in your first few decades, but it starts to nag at you eventually, doesn't it?

California Girl said...

Great thoughts! Really causes me to think and I am, or used to be, OBSESSED with the past.

We are a composite of all we have been or ever will be. What else makes sense after all? I mean, I wrote a post about Looking Backward and the comments on that ranged all over the place. People are who they were and who they are. Reconciliation of the two is another matter.

Pan's Island said...

It's interesting to think about our present selves including all of our past selves ... I guess we all have split-personalities in that way ... or perhaps there's more than just a child inside of each of us - there's a baby and a toddler and a teenager and a young woman/man and all the other versions of ourselves

Dr.John said...

I'm afraid no matter how we try to slide around it or cover it up we are stuck being the age we are. It's just the way it is. You can remember all you want but when you look out your stil here at this age and all those other ages are gone.

DawnTreader said...

Thanks everyone for your comments, I appreciate them! No, there is no "going back", except in memory… And even our memory is selective and not always reliable! I'm pondering over these things right now partly related to the books I'm reading, partly related to ageing parents. I'll probably be coming back to similar topics again…


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