The Space Between Love and Fear

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What is it that we find so charming about the adventures of those much older than ourselves? What is it that is so endearing about films, like Cocoon, in which groups of “elderly” men and women (it might amuse people to realize that some of those elderly actors were in their 50s and 60s!) are rejuvenated by aliens? Or when a group of retirees surprisingly heads off to India to spend their last years, perhaps die there, and instead learn to live all over again and that love, regardless of age, can find a way to bloom?

There is something about finding love at any point in our lives that strikes a chord with all of us.

None of us ever wishes to think our best years are behind us. And the thing is that they aren’t, unless we allow them to be.

I am not at all sure how it happened that I am poised on the precipice of old age. Having recently turned 59 I am in my 60th year. That, suddenly, sounds simply not possible. And yet it is equally impossible for me to worry too much about that silly number or what it means. I certainly don’t want to use up the time I have left worrying about the time I have left.

I divorced ten years ago and moved to a new city three years ago. My children are effectively grown. I have always had friends of many ages but now all around me I have somehow gathered intimate friends whose years far surpass mine and who seem, without any effort at all, to be quite elegantly ignoring their own number. They provide me with role models for the rest of my years.

I play mah jongg with women who are more than ten, and one even almost twenty, years older than I. I have a dear friend who is 87, although I would dare anyone to guess that fact. Her lover of half a dozen years is fifteen years younger than she, but he is still an “older” man. One of my friends is a recent widow getting her feet steady after a lifetime of marriage; another is a longtime widow who still works 35 hours a week at 72. Yet another is graciously maneuvering the illness of her daughter. And a fourth, at 78, is so busy volunteering her many talents I cannot keep up.   Those are only some of the role models right in front of me.

After I turned 50, I not only moved house and city, but I found new love, too; and the way it works, compared to the fraught and often confusing relationships of my younger years, delights. People asked me how I could move somewhere new all alone. But that’s just the point, isn’t it? If, as Judi Dench says in The Second Best Exotic Marigold Hotel (slightly paraphrasing writer Jay McInerney) that “the difference between what we want and what we fear is the width of an eyelash,” then we need to jump over that tiny logjam and get on with what scares us in hopes of arriving at what will delight is. And any film that has Dench as the object of desire has its head on straight.

As I have written before, people (and women in particular) needn’t constantly make an effort to re-invent themselves and their lives because each decade is the natural starting place for a sort of life re-arranging anyway. Our bodies and minds grow and change and we must accommodate them. Aging is just moving with the current, isn’t it? Like a shark, we swim or die.

At 60, painter JMW Turner was considered washed up, done. He was old, infirm and nothing new was expected creatively. Instead he did some of his best and most provocative work, unencumbered by the adoration he had achieved in his youth, fired instead by the naysayers who were convinced he had nothing left to offer. He also fell madly in love with the woman who ran the inn where he stayed when he painted.

In the first Marigold film, it appeared that people were running away from something, their old lives and fear, perhaps; but isn’t it true that what looks an awful lot like running away can actually be a running towards? Sometimes our journey is accidental. Sometimes it is the product of things beyond our control: death, disease, tragedy. It’s what we do with that journey that makes the difference. Run toward change and it will be a good thing.

Maggie Smith has all the best lines in Downtown Abbey and the Marigold Hotel films but her brutal bon mots are only honesty quite thinly disguised. That sort of thing seems reserved for the provenance of old age. But what if we tried it earlier in life? Perhaps it would help us as we move with the current, which is so necessary if we are to live a full life.

The Second Best Marigold Hotel is now playing in theaters. This post is sponsored by Fox Searchlight Pictures, but the views expressed are the author’s alone. For more information, please visit the official website for The Second Best Marigold Hotel.

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