The Last Gift of Time: Life Beyond Sixty by Carolyn Heilbrun


heilbrunimagesCarolyn Heilbrun, feminist, author and professor ended her life at age 77, having written this book a few years before.  She writes positively and optimistically about her sixties: “I found the revelation that I could look back on my sixties with pleasure astonishing. ” She enjoyed her husband’s company, bought a “house of her own” and a dog, and continued to draw pleasure from her relationships with both young and old. She considers her time time well spent because  she “emerged somehow changed, refigured, with my life altered to extend the range of possible reactions and experience, however subtle or internal. ” In essence, the sixties can be a “successful” decade if one seeks opportunities for growth and expansion.  Here are some of her conclusions:

1. Our sixties give us the chance to “get out, ” not only from a job but from much else that we have been doing unquestioningly for a long time. 

2. Better not to be a dabbler:  Work in the sixties must be undertaken that is difficult, concentrated, where definite progress can be measured…it should require strong effort and the evidence of growing proficiency. 

3.In our sixites we need to discover a word that means “adventure” that does not mean “romance” to free ourselves from the compulsion always to connect yearning and sex. We need to determine a late-in-life adventure that is not romance.

4. It may be that in our sixties we experience a “basic condition of being human- that is, to want with fervency the exact opposite of what one has..”

5. Every time those of us (in our sixties) allow a memory to occur, we forget to look at what is in front of us, at the new ideas and pleasure we might, if firmly in the present, encounter and enjoy.

6. It is our presence that is important to the young. They want us to be there: not in their homes, perhaps, not watching them with a baleful eye as they go about their daily work, but there.  We reassure them that life continues, and if we listen, we assure them that it matters to us that it continues….What to call it? It is the essence of having lived long, it is the unstated assurance that most disasters pass, it is the survival of deprivation and death and rejection that renders our sympathy of value.

7.At times in the sixties, a swift, mysterious wave of happiness, mostly causeless, occurs. The consciousness of happiness sweeps over you, like a shower of cold water when one is desperately overheated, offering a passing sensation very close to glee.

8. The discovery of the pleasure of conversing with one’s adult children. They are friends with an extra dimension of affection.

9. Heilburn points out that Balanchine said: “Just Dance the steps.” –Meaning that dancers ought not worry about the whole ballet, its meaning, its significance, but should-just dance the steps.

Categories: observations

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