Wednesday, 22 October 2008

Carolyn Heilbrun

For my sixtieth birthday, my sister, Dorothy, gave me a copy of Carolyn Heilbrun’s book, The Last Gift of Time: Life Beyond Sixty (1997). I loved it, reading it several times during my own first year beyond sixty. True to form, Dorothy then gifted me with Writing a Woman's Life (1988) and one of the Amanda Cross mysteries, “just for grins.” The latter was a bit of a disappointment. But this September when I briefly relocated to my cottage for a personal retreat, I took the two collections of Heilbrun’s essays. Sitting in the sun, luxuriating in my own gift of time, I was inspired by Heilbrun’s feminist audacity, and decided to assemble a collection of my own introspective essays exploring my accumulated feelings, attitudes, perspectives as I straddle the years between past selves and my future evolving selves. (The plurals are intentional!)
I have long felt a refusal to settle only for now...and continue to delight in "becoming". That is not to say that I do not value living "in the moment"...aka Oprah and Eckert Tole's admonition...It just means that, at this stage in life, we can draw energy from the past, present and unfolding future. (presumptuous as that may seem).
In advance of writing a nodding acknowledgement to Heilbrun for my newly created Tread Softly Blog, I googled her name and discovered the following news item:

A Death of One's Own
Founding feminist, Virginia Woolf scholar, and strong-willed enemy of the patriarchy (as well as mother, grandmother, and wife), Carolyn Heilbrun lived her ideals. The right to choose death—she committed suicide in October—was one of them.

I was stunned upon reading this news (from as long ago as 2003). I was also angry. While I do believe in one’s right to life and to death on one’s own terms, it just seemed somehow that she had let me down. How dare she go gentle into that good night.
I now feel a greater urge than ever to chronicle the feelings and energies of a woman who believes in raging for as long as one is able. This “second coming”, in mid-life, is a gift to be unfolded, fondled, and treasured. I don’t mean that we set our lives on a shelf and sit back to admire periodically. No, no. We use the good china, the expensive body creams, the best wines. And we surge forward, barbells in hand, building muscle fibres of resistant to any ideas that would impede the success of a future we are still creating.
Heilbrun once said,
Odd, the years it took to learn one simple fact: that the prize just ahead, the next job, publication, love affair, marriage always seemed to hold the key to satisfaction but never, in the longer run, sufficed.
Absolutely right. As soon as my cup (or wine glass) runneth over, it needs refilling. I intend to live a life of insufficiency for as long as I properly understand the motivating power of that word.

No comments: