Ever notice how, when you get interested in a subject, it crops up in all sorts of places? That’s been the case with me these last few weeks. Blame it on COVID-19, but I’ve been introspective to the point of obsession. What is success? How should we live? Does pandemic lockdown help or hinder our emotional evolution? Does age empower or diminish a person? Big questions!
Perhaps that’s why I noticed the obituary notice for Gail Sheehy, the author of the book Passages. I read the book once in my early thirties and again in my fifties. Apparently I like to look at the stages of life after they’ve come and gone. I found her observations interesting, but not life-altering. Interestingly, Ms Sheehy admitted there wasn’t much to say about life after 50. Kind of a downer for those of us on the other side of the big five-o.
Then I noted an article on Writer Unboxed about being a debut author at 60. Liza Nash Taylor is looking forward to the publication of her new book at a time of life when she did not expect to do new things. Yet, writing a book has changed lifelong habits of avoiding the spotlight and the public stage. Life is exhilarating and fun — and a little scary. The comments on her post reveal many authors who broke into publishing at 60 or 70 or later in life. So, there are still adventures and possibilities for the past-middle-age crowd.
I also read another book by Jennifer Ryan, The Spies of Shilling Lane. I’ve posted about her previous book, The Chilbury Ladies’ Choir here. In this story we leave the village of Ashcombe behind and plunge into the world of London during the Blitz. The main character, Mrs. Braithwaite, formerly the doyen of the village has had her life turned upside down and is now wondering who she is, really. In the end, she believes that the measure of success in life is “the amount that you love and are loved.”
So, Ms Sheehy has entered her final passage. Writers all over the world are working and questioning their purpose in this topsy-turvey world. Old and young are trying to navigate their way through life tough times. Our culture seems to be experiencing the birth pains of something new. Where do each of us fit?
Perhaps Ms Ryan is right. It isn’t the number of books you’ve published, the money you’ve made, the toys you’ve owned or the skills you’ve acquired, that measure the success of a life. It’s how much you have loved — and COVID can’t stop that.