Wednesday, September 12, 2012


I was at a celebratory get-together for a friend who turned sixty a while back during which he said, "I'm incredibly lucky to have remained an adolescent all these years. That's what publishing has allowed me. To stay curious. And to pretend that literature is real life."

Which words those of us attending laughed at knowingly. Most of us were adolescents too -- albeit gray-haired, pot-bellied, and mildly arthritic on damp mornings -- still questing after the true and beautiful, still believing in the power of words to make things happen, largely conservative in our aesthetics but rabidly liberal in our politics. We were as avid for sensual experience as teenagers but we had learned to slow down -- our bodies, if not always our minds, had come to demand patience, the exquisite pain of making the penultimate moment last.

We raised our glasses and toasted our friend's health and years. In Polish we sang, "Sto Lat." A hundred years. Live to be a hundred. As though the quality of a life could be measured in numbers. As though longevity itself was something to strive for. I thought of some of my dearest contemporaries, the ones already dead, done in at an age much younger than I am now, most by disease, a few by misadventure, one or two by their own hand.

They must be around here somewhere for I can hear them singing, their voices soft and clear as the last light of day over the western hills. Their presence comforts me. I hope that by the time their voices are extinguished I too will be gone a long, long time.

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