November is my birthday month, and this year has gifted me with a mild case of birthday blues. Maybe it’s the silver hairs I keep finding (which seem awfully early—I’m still in my 20s!!), or the fact that I care less now about things that used to concern me greatly and more about things that I used to not think about at all.
For one thing, I never used to think about getting older. It seemed like an impossible thing, in part due to my admittedly morbid concern about dying young (for which I blame reading the news and too many tragic books) and also because I have always lived in the present, or the past. Now, having made it this far, I’ve finally joined conventional society (sigh) in that I’m suddenly conscious of aging and the potential of the future.
Young and Beautiful
Lana Del Rey’s “Young and Beautiful” takes me right back to 2013, when Leonardo DiCaprio’s The Great Gatsby was released. It was a movie I didn’t watch till years later (and could barely tolerate), but somehow the song—with its lyrics I intensely dislike—worked its way into my life as the soundtrack to my own disappointment and lost friendship. I still love its haunting melody, played beautifully on the piano by The Theorist.
Perhaps the core tragedy of Jay Gatsby was his inability to adapt to changing circumstances. He modified his entire lifestyle to try to win back his first love Daisy, but he refused to accept the fact he had lost her in the first place, or that the passage of time results in changed people as well as changed fortunes.
Nearly everyone has had a Daisy figure in their life at some point. I gave up mine this past year, and the very success of that decision makes me feel old. But I’m better for it.
Where Dorian Was Right
At the Anglican church I used to attend, the priest would give you a blessing on your birthday. These were the words:
Watch over thy child, O Lord, as her days increase; bless and guide her wherever she may be, keeping her unspotted from the world. Strengthen her when she stands; comfort her when discouraged or sorrowful; raise her up if she falls; and in her heart may thy peace which passeth understanding abide all the days of her life; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
In Oscar Wilde’s The Picture of Dorian Gray, the protagonist Dorian is described as not merely young, but rather like “one who had kept himself unspotted from the world.” Dorian becomes obsessed with maintaining this image, while refusing to sacrifice his self-indulgent, hedonistic lifestyle.
I sympathize with Dorian’s initial ideal. The older you get, and the more you engage with the world (even altruistically, unlike Dorian), the more the stress and struggle show on your personal features. The best we can do, however, is focus on our spiritual life and hope that inner peace will be reflected in our appearances, while accepting that age comes to everyone. The better your attitude about it, the better off you will be.
One of my favorite poems is Henry Longfellow’s dedication to The Seaside and the Fireside collection. He describes the seemingly immortal youth of the written word and its authors. It’s a reminder to me why I write and blog: not just for its own sake but, more importantly, to connect with others across time and space. 🙂
As one who, walking in the twilight gloom,
Hears round about him voices as it darkens,
And seeing not the forms from which they come,
Pauses from time to time, and turns and hearkens;
So walking here in twilight, O my friends!
I hear your voices, softened by the distance,
And pause, and turn to listen, as each sends
His words of friendship, comfort, and assistance.
If any thought of mine, or sung or told,
Has ever given delight or consolation,
Ye have repaid me back a thousand-fold,
By every friendly sign and salutation.
Thanks for the sympathies that ye have shown!
Thanks for each kindly word, each silent token,
That teaches me, when seeming most alone,
Friends are around us, though no word be spoken.
Kind messages, that pass from land to land;
Kind letters, that betray the heart’s deep history,
In which we feel the pressure of a hand,–
One touch of fire,–and all the rest is mystery!
The pleasant books, that silently among
Our household treasures take familiar places,
And are to us as if a living tongue
Spice from the printed leaves or pictured faces!
Perhaps on earth I never shall behold,
With eye of sense, your outward form and semblance;
Therefore to me ye never will grow old,
But live forever young in my remembrance.
Never grow old, nor change, nor pass away!
Your gentle voices will flow on forever,
When life grows bare and tarnished with decay,
As through a leafless landscape flows a river.
Not chance of birth or place has made us friends,
Being oftentimes of different tongues and nations,
But the endeavor for the selfsame ends,
With the same hopes, and fears, and aspirations.
Therefore I hope to join your seaside walk,
Saddened, and mostly silent, with emotion;
Not interrupting with intrusive talk
The grand, majestic symphonies of ocean.
Therefore I hope, as no unwelcome guest,
At your warm fireside, when the lamps are lighted,
To have my place reserved among the rest,
Nor stand as one unsought and uninvited!