Tag Archives: aging

Mind At The Mercy of Multiplicity

Life does not accommodate you, it shatters you. It’s meant to, and it couldn’t do it better. Every seed destroys its container or else there would be no fruition.
– Florida Scott-Maxwell, The Measure of My Days (65)

DSCI0018I was given this most interesting book by a very old woman that I work for. The meditations and musings of Florida Scott-Maxwell: born in 1883, she barely attended school and yet was a prominent figure in the women’s suffrage movement, wrote books and plays and even became, in her forties, an analytical psychologist studying under Carl Jung.  The Measure of My Days, was written when she was in her eighties; the subjects in her mind were aging, death, life, God, love, hate and meaning. Old people, as she put it, “are people to whom something important is about to happen.” (138)

I used to  find it difficult to talk to people newly met. Speech felt precipitate. A silent knowing should come first, sitting, smiling, holding hands, dancing perhaps without words, but talking is too committal for a beginning. (30)

The above quote arrested me, firstly for its succinct charm, summing up how many people, like myself, feel and second for her use of the words “used to.” I hate the difficulty in myself, but gradually I sometimes have a feeling that it is slowly falling away.  I love the confirmation that that could be true. Scott-Maxwell, writing at her ripe age, mostly worried about shocking people with what she considered her most passionate years.

To me the pigeons say, “Too true, dear love, too true” I listened, looked out on the trees beyond both windows and I was free and happy. (123)

I may never hear a pigeon any other way. A deeply religious woman, but also honest and human. She was not above feeling hate, shame, or love.  Above all, the most fascinating quality about this book is that she was a woman, and wrote as a woman, both overtly and instinctively. Which is not to say there are elements of maternal earth-mother or, I-am-woman-hear-me-roar stereotypes, rather it is an unusual absence of the male perspective that we are all trained to think under—a palatable freedom from the male paradigm. She was who she was. She wrote as she thought and didn’t ask, or expect, you to agree. But it is as if the syntax of the male dominated domain of the intellect is slightly off, and it is lovely.

My answers must be my own, years of reading now lost in the abyss I call my mind. (7I)

For good and bad, she acknowledges a kind of radical understanding that the things that delineate us, not just male/female but: income, race, religion, intelligence, and luck- these things  include inequalities, yet describe individuals. We are none of us alike. That is life.  But in every life, by every means of measurement, there is a profound gestalt.  Florida Scott-Maxwell achieves that and more in her beautifully powerful final book.

*title from page 19 – I am awareness at the mercy of multiplicity.

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The Goddesses We Meet

St_Augustines_Ramsgate_Mildred“My God, this is fabulous.” I held up the heavy beaded gown. Rows of shimmering glass, the elegant tiny rectangular pink beads tightly lining the tan fabric undulated as the weight pulled my arm down. Staring in awe we simultaneously imagined her in the dress, once regally adorned.

Draping the long disused garment over my arm, I carried it and the other blouses and slacks, all carefully pressed and hung, back up the stairs. Squeezing past the motorized chair that carried her decaying body up and down, I bounded up the steps: steps that before the chair was installed, she had had to crawl up as her bones cruelly disintegrated. Scanning her bedroom I’d look for anything I could quickly do to help her now that we had organized her clothes. The bed was undone, easy for me to fix. The piles of towels on the matching twin bed were  a simple thing to organize into neat stacks of ascending order. I felt the quiet thrill of purpose as I folded.

I carefully pulled her stockings onto her feet and helped her get her shoes on. She dragged her body with excruciating effort towards the door. In the time she took to get there I would briskly straighten up the kitchen, wash the cups in the sink, and wipe down the coffee machine. Until every movement had to be carefully weighed and considered she had kept a house of perfect cleanliness and order. Now she sat in her chair as the dust bunnies mocked her. We laughed at her mental war with them together, and when she was not looking I gathered them up and threw them away. I could do that for her.

She took me to lunch and we laughed some more. She had stories to tell: sharp, compassionate and dead funny. That which had the memory of magnificence had become a source of unimaginable pain- but she laughed at the rearrangement of hairs from her body to her face, the leftover glory of her breasts that no longer appeared anywhere near her chest. We were like two school girls with the giggles. She ate meatloaf and laughed at me because I always ordered the BLT.

Aware of the cost of every step she took I’d take two or three, trying my best to correct the math: zipping in front of her, moving things out of her way, holding doors,  her walker, her purse. All the stupid little things I could do for her, and she embarrassed me with her gratitude.

By her admission, her heaping  measure of the pain life so generously offers came mostly at the end. We talked about suffering, love, death and God. She was not afraid of any subject. We allowed each other to feel the force of our personal miseries without pity. It could always be worse we told each other, sometimes with a laugh. Because it can.

I know what she looked like, sitting uncomfortably in her chair, woozy from her battle to find relief. I never knew her any other way. But when I picture her, the photograph on the sideboard that I passed each day as I left  is what I see in my mind.

There she stands, next to her adored husband: perfect eyebrows, tall proud figure and bright eyes. I see what she truly was. She was a goddess.
Rest, sweet woman, in peace.