Wednesday, June 15, 2016

Aging, Courage & William Blake

"And we are put on this earth a little space that we might learn to bear the beams of love."
William Blake

My puppy Darby has a habit of pausing during fierce and furious play, coming over to me and giving me a cuddle. He then very quickly returns to his high energy and enthusiastic play, usually with a tennis ball. When my niece was a child, she did the same thing, interrupt her playing, run to me for a quick snuggle or two, then abandon me to my gentle joy as she returned to her doll house and other toys. I have a theory about this behavior shared by descendants of wolves and little girls. It has to do with what poet William Blake - who understood more than most of his contemporaries and most of ours - called "the beams of love." Little ones feel those beams and acknowledge them with a quick visit to their sender.

As I've aged, I've turned into a real scaredy-cat. It seems incredible to me that I once acted before an audience of thousands in Shakespeare in the Park in Lexington, Kentucky, rode a horse in the foothills of the Berkshire Mountains, and preferred the window seat on overseas flights. I don't act, ride, or travel by plane any more. Now, simply thinking these things makes me a tad nervous. Living in a gun-crazy culture where a possible presidential candidate encourages his supporters to "beat the crap" out of his opponents does little to calm me. I'm calm right now, Darby nestled beside me on a comfy sofa, my fingers tapping the laptop. I seem in real danger of becoming one of those daffy little 'ole ladies daffy about their dogs (spotted in posh neighborhoods, the dears and their doggies often wear matching coats, usually soft plaids).

Aging in a country where looking young is a national obsession can be a challenge. Compare the lined, character-laden faces of British actors to the frozen facelifts of American actors. Jonathon Goldsmith is still the perfect "most interesting man in the world" but he has been booted away by the beer company that employed him because he turned seventy-seven. I'm  not about to bounce into the annoying boosterism that touts aging is a bunch of fun. It isn't, unless you find arthritis, back pain, and short-term memory loss a bunch of fun. But the cowardice that keeps me from stages, stables, and airports doesn't apply to my growing older. I know there are more important things to be concerned about - especially in an election year - than crow's feet and gray hairs.

William Blake sang on his deathbed so certain was he of the joy that awaited him. I doubt I'll sing on my deathbed. My off-key lyrics might offend the angels.