Carolyn Heilbrun, unmet friend

I’ve read The Last Gift of Time: Life Beyond Sixty by Carolyn G. Heilbrun twice. I’ve been thinking it may be time to read it again. Heilbrun (1926 – 2003) was an ardent feminist, scholarly, opinionated and unconventional, and that’s what I find compelling in her work, being more timid and conventional myself. She makes me think, makes me agree or disagree, inspires me. “Women catch courage from the women whose lives and writings they read,” she said, “and call the bearer of that courage friend.”

41qphFrXRWL._SX320_BO1,204,203,200_By that definition, Heilbrun is what she called an unmet friend. When we first moved to Tsawwassen, for example, I signed up for a couple of Eldercollege courses, six afternoons on Shakespeare’s Richard III, then another round on Sinclair Lewis’ Babbit, and these were fine, they were good, but I recalled Heilbrun saying that rather than dabbling, a course here, a course there, retired people ought to find a “world,” a “work” that “requires strong effort and the evidence of growing proficiency… [the purpose being] to maintain a carefully directed intensity.” I realized I still had a world of work, I wasn’t done with writing yet. That’s where my intensity longed to be.

Heilbrun also said she didn’t want to be a “rememberer.” Memories “can evolve into the ultimate temptation of one’s last decade…to recall grudges, to dwell on ancient wrongs and miseries and betrayals, to allow these memories…to dominate thought and therefore life.” Better to stay in the present, she said, to make friends of the young and not put them off with relishing the past. Unlike Heilbrun, I want to be a rememberer. But since she’s a friend, I’ll listen at least, I’ll consider the caution in her words, try not to put off the youngers in my life.

6 thoughts on “Carolyn Heilbrun, unmet friend

  1. Dora, I too want to remember. Remembering the joy as well as the pain, the ecstasy as well as the agony, the gain as well as the loss, there emerges a rich portrait, a colorful tapestry that I love to reflect on. When my grandchildren beg me to tell them another story and I begin to tell it, and they say, “no, not that one, tell the other one.” I tell it, and they want to hear it exactly the way I told it before. Then I know it’s worth remembering!

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    • Well put, Elfrieda. That “colorful tapestry” leads to gratitude, doesn’t it. And I love that you’re a storyteller in the lives of your grandchildren.

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    • I think you might enjoy her; I’d want to read her book on living on the threshold (liminality). I guess she might have said that yes, it comes almost unbidden with aging, and it seems she wanted to resist that, live in the present. Always provocative!

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  2. This was thought-provoking – the tension of living in the moment, being present, looking forward versus reflecting, remembering, looking back. I’d like to think both happen at the same time. By nature I am analytical and reflective much of the time. Dredging up the past does in some instances bring the negative emotions of regret, and so on. Some of these memories are helping me make peace with my past. I do agree it is unwise to let them define you in this final stage, but it does not feel like an either/or for me. I appreciated a quote I heard some time ago – you have to look back to progress. Maybe the young folks will benefit from our experience as they progress into the future. I so appreciate your writings…you do have the passion and intensity for writing! As you know, I’m a huge fan 😉

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