Another minor avalanche of cards, letters and e mails this Christmas from friends and onetime colleagues. Everybody seems surprised that there is such a thing as ‘TIME ‘, which seems to flow by more speedily than perhaps when we were younger. ‘I cannot believe that the year has come round so quickly…’ is how many letters begin; our’s did! But we find ourselves saying the same as the weeks go by – ‘can it be Friday already?’ It would be more surprising if time stood still.
People’s news is all about holidays, health – or the lack of it – and most of all, about families. The delight of old age is the adoration of children and grandchildren.; perhaps its danger as well. The thought that the little bit of history that your partnership began, goes on and will continue to when you have gone, is a material fact but also a sort of metaphysical mystery. Wise not to over play the card and suppose the family to be more perfect than it is, the love between us is still a remarkable thing and it’s all the more sad when people are without it.
So many of the letters we have had are full of praise (paraded sometimes with pride as well) for their children and their accomplishments. The penalty of being elderly is to look back regretfully on the wasted years and the mishandled opportunities. O.K. But we have been parents!! Hopefully, reasonably good ones as well. Struggling perhaps with limited pensions, we have however left behind a human legacy infinitely more valuable.
One of our dearest friends writes about the hard months of living without her husband, and her tiredness after two years of caring for him. They had four – or was it five? –children who married young and have had large families too, and they look after her as she does them. In their early forties, some of them are now grandparents! ‘We must go on’ she writes.
There is this determination not to give up which characterises so many of the messages we have been sent. Perhaps it’s partly the generation and the protestant work ethic that is typical of many of us, but sadness, despair at the world situation and increasing immobility are hindrances to get over rather than surrender to.
But what is the future of our children and their children to be? The incredibly difficult attempt to create a world order based on the survival of the planet and therefore of all its human, animal and plant inhabitants, comes to its conclusion in Copenhagen as I write. The nuclear family is a parable and constituent of the family of humankind. The joy of the one can be a sacrament of the basic unity of the other. However difficult to achieve, may it be so.