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Authors: Florida Scott-Maxwell

Measure of My Days

BOOK: Measure of My Days
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Books by FLORIDA SCOTT-MAXWELL

Women and Sometimes Men    1957

The Measure of My Days    1968

These are Borzoi Books, published in New York by Alfred A. Knopf

THIS IS A BORZOI BOOK
PUBLISHED BY ALFRED A. KNOPF, INC.
Reprinted Three Times
Fifth Printing, May 1973
© Copyright 1968 by Florida Scott-Maxwell
All rights reserved under International
and Pan-American Copyright Conventions.
Distributed by Random House, Inc.
Library of Congress Catalog Card Number: 68-13643
eISBN: 978-0-307-82834-7

v3.1

Contents

 

W
e who are old
know that age is more than a disability. It is an intense and varied experience, almost beyond our capacity at times, but something to be carried high. If it is a long defeat it is also a victory, meaningful for the initiates of time, if not for those who have come less far.

B
eing old
I am out of step, troubled by my lack of concord, unable to like or understand much that I see. Feeling at variance with the times must be the essence of age, and it is confusing, wounding. I feel exposed, bereft of a right matrix, with the present crime, violence, nihilism heavy on my heart. I weigh and appraise, recoiling, suffering, but very alert. Now that I have withdrawn from the active world I am more alert to it than ever before. Old people have so little personal life that
the impact of the impersonal is sharp. Some of us feel like sounding boards, observing, reading; the outside event startles us and we ask in alarm, “Is this good or bad? To where will it lead? What effect will it have on people, just people? How different will they become?” I fear for the future.

I
n the past
when sorrows, or problems, or ideas were too much for me, I learned to deal with them in a way of my own. At night when I got to bed I lay on my back and gave to their solution what I knew would be many sleepless hours. I would let the problem enter me like a lance piercing my solar plexus. I must be open, utterly open, and as I could stand it the lance went deeper and deeper. As I accepted each implication, opened to my hurt, my protest, resentment and bewilderment the lance went further in. Then the same for others involved—that they did, said, felt, thus and so, then why, face why
and endure the lance. As my understanding deepened I could finally accept the truths that lay behind the first truths that had seemed unendurable. At last, the pain of the lance was not there and I was free. No, free is not the right word. My barriers had been lowered and I knew what I had not known before.

Now that I am old something has begun that is slightly the same, enough the same to make me start this note book. When I was sewing, or playing a soothing-boring game of patience, I found queries going round and round in my head and I began to jot them down in this note book which I used to use for sketching. The queries were insistent, and I began a game of asking questions and giving answers. Answers out of what I had read and forgotten, and now thought my own, or out of my recoils and hopes. If the modern world is this, then will it become so and so? My answers must be my own, years of reading now lost in the abyss I call my mind. What matters is what I have now, what in fact I live and feel.

It makes my note book my dear companion, or my undoing. I put down my sweeping opinions, prejudices, limitations, and just here the book fails me for it makes no comment. It is even my wailing wall, and when I play that grim, comforting game of noting how wrong everyone else is, my book is silent, and I listen to the stillness, and I learn.

I
am getting fine
and supple from the mistakes I’ve made, but I wish a note book could laugh. Old and alone one lives at such a high moral level. One is surrounded by eternal verities, noble austerities to scale on every side, and frightening depths of insight. It is inhuman. I long to laugh. I want to be enjoyed, but an hour’s talk and I am exhausted.

W
hat a time
of fact finding this is. Research into everything, committees of experts formed to solve each problem that arises; computers given
more information than would seem possible for a human brain to use, and statistics taken as final truth. The stir and determination make it appear that the complexities of life have just been noticed, but soon every detail will be clearly seen and solved.

Yet something very different seems the taste of the age, a liking for the blurred, the unlabelled, amounting to a preference for sameness, inclusion, oneness. To include and condone is modern, while to differentiate is old fashioned. This seems to hold socially, morally. Is it a claim that the less good is not exactly the same as the good, yet it has its rights, and must be protected as though it contained a new value? Perhaps it does. New values are coming to birth and suspension of judgment may be wise. Or are we all so confused that we remain amorphous, hoping a new pattern will form itself without our help?

T
here seems a widespread need
of living and learning the dark side of our nature. Perhaps we are
almost on the point of saying that evil is normal, in each of us, an integral part of our being. This age may be witnessing the assimilation of evil, thereby finding a new wisdom. We have been insisting for centuries that evil should not be, that it can be eliminated, is only the absence of good, resides in others; if others are evil we are not, or so little that it hardly matters. Now we are fascinated by evil. Does it begin to be clear that it is half of life, and at its extreme is truly evil? Are we learning that without the tension between good and evil there would be no dynamism in life? Perhaps our two cruel wars were a climax of evil making us see a truth we have always fled; if this profound realisation is taking place, then what seems our decadence may be the stirring of a new reality, even a new morality, God willing and man able.

What a perilous morality. Will humanity ever be equal to it? Where will the difference lie between the man who blindly lives his chaos, and the man who consciously endures the conflict between the opposing sides of his nature? The
latter will gain clarity, a deepened awareness, and he will achieve responsibility for many aspects of his being, but much of the time the two men will look the same.

I
notice
that parents are very cautious about inculcating any special virtues in their young. They almost look to the young to create whatever virtue they need most. This behaviour can seem a failure, a wrong done to the young, but parents may be mute because they are unsure, and so the young are forced to choose, to learn the reality of good and evil at first hand. All this may have to be. Adults are bankrupt of certitudes. The young may have to learn in their own right the negative of every positive. That evil is the inevitable half of good may be the unacceptable truth that we are all taking in, and it could be the forerunner of a new balance. If such a possibility lies ahead, then we must be moving toward a goal of greater consciousness,
where we will admit our dual natures, and assume responsibility for all that lies within us.

Has this hope not lain behind all moral effort, all the varying attempts that brought such bad with such good? Have we come anywhere near the avowal, “Evil that belongs to me is my sacred responsibility?” Or are we only saying—“Evil hardly matters, we like it.” What confusion we are in, and what soil for new virtues. May the young be strong. We have to hope, for our present formlessness could lead to self-hatred. It might even lead to a hatred of others, which could create a wish for destruction, until atomic war could express humanity’s verdict on itself. This is too dreadful to look at. Do old people see life in terms of failure because we are failing? Perhaps. We are apocalyptic. We no longer function, so we warn and condemn. The only useful thing we might do is to feel compassion for those who make the mistakes we are too old to make.

I
used to draw
, absorbed in the shapes of roots of trees, and seed pods, and flowers, but it strained my eyes and I gave it up. Then ten years ago I began to make rugs. A few were beautiful, though never straight. This gave them vitality. As I created patterns, banged and pulled, the wool and I struggling—the wool winning sometimes; at great moments I in full command—my heart knew peace, and my mind was as empty as a cloudless sky on a summer’s day. But my hands were too arthritic, it had to end, and now only music prevents my facing my thoughts.

A
ge puzzles me.
I thought it was a quiet time. My seventies were interesting, and fairly serene, but my eighties are passionate. I grow more intense as I age. To my own surprise I burst out with hot conviction. Only a few years ago I enjoyed my tranquillity, now I am so disturbed by the outer world and by human quality in
general, that I want to put things right as though I still owed a debt to life. I must calm down. I am far too frail to indulge in moral fervour.

O
ld people
are not protected from life by engagements, or pleasures, or duties; we are open to our own sentience; we cannot get away from it, and it is too much. We should ward off the problematic, and above all the insoluble. These are far, far too much, but it is just these that attract us. Our one safety is to draw in, and enjoy the simple and immediate. We should rest within our own confines. It may be dull, restricted, but it can be satisfying within our own walls. I feel most real when alone, even most alive when alone. Better to say that the liveliness of companionship and the liveliness of solitude differ, and the latter is never as exhausting as the former. When I am with other people I try to find them, or try to find a point in myself from which to make a bridge to them, or I walk on
the egg-shells of affection trying not to hurt or misjudge. All this is very tiring, but love at any age takes everything you’ve got.

W
hat fun it is
to generalize in the privacy of a note book. It is as I imagine waltzing on ice might be. A great delicious sweep in one direction, taking you your full strength, and then with no trouble at all, an equally delicious sweep in the opposite direction. My note book does not help me think, but it eases my crabbed heart.

I
love my family
for many reasons; for what I see them to be, for the loveliness they have been, for the good I know in them. I love their essence, their “could be”, and all this in spite of knowing their faults well. I love the individual life in them that I saw when in bud. I have spent much of my life watching it unfold, enchanted and anxious.
At times it has seemed like frail craft shaking out sails. I have feared for it when it was becalmed, when it was in danger, and when I knew nothing, nothing. I have felt respect, even reverence, for I have seen it meet tragedy and gain nobility. I have watched it win its prizes and I have learned the hard truth a mother learns slowly, that the quick of intimacy she has known becomes hope for loved strangers.

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