August 10, 2015 by Paula Reed Nancarrow
It is best as one grows older to strip oneself of possessions, to shed oneself downward like a tree, to be almost wholly earth before one dies.
― Sylvia Townsend Warner, Lolly Willowes
Age has no reality except in the physical world. The essence of a human being is resistant to the passage of time. Our inner lives are eternal, which is to say that our spirits remain as youthful and vigorous as when we were in full bloom. Think of love as a state of grace, not the means to anything, but the alpha and omega. An end in itself.
― Gabriel García Márquez, Love in the Time of Cholera
At age 20, we worry about what others think of us. At age 40, we don’t care what they think of us. At age 60, we discover they haven’t been thinking of us at all.
― Ann Landers
Age is a high price to pay for maturity.
I finally know the difference between pleasing and loving, obeying and respecting. It has taken me so many years to be okay with being different, and with being this alive, this intense.
― Eve Ensler
All children, except one, grow up. They soon know that they will grow up, and the way Wendy knew was this. One day when she was two years old she was playing in a garden, and she plucked another flower and ran with it to her mother. I suppose she must have looked rather delightful, for Mrs Darling put her hand to her heart and cried, ‘Oh, why can’t you remain like this for ever!’ This was all that passed between them on the subject, but henceforth Wendy knew that she must grow up. You always know after you are two. Two is the beginning of the end.
― J.M. Barrie, Peter Pan
Be on the alert to recognize your prime at whatever time of your life it may occur.
The tragedy of old age is not that one is old, but that one is young.
―Oscar Wilde, The Picture of Dorian Gray
The great secret that all old people share is that you really haven’t changed in seventy or eighty years. Your body changes, but you don’t change at all. And that, of course, causes great confusion. ―Doris Lessing
Life is one long process of getting tired.
―Samuel Butler, Notebooks
Today I am 65 years old. I still look good. I appreciate and enjoy my age. A lot of people resist transition and therefore never allow themselves to enjoy who they are. Embrace the change, no matter what it is; once you do, you can learn about the new world you’re in and take advantage of it. You still bring to bear all your prior experience, but you are riding on another level. It’s completely liberating.
― Nikki Giovanni
“We’re all fools,” said Clemens, “all the time. It’s just we’re a different kind each day. We think, I’m not a fool today. I’ve learned my lesson. I was a fool yesterday but not this morning. Then tomorrow we find out that, yes, we were a fool today too. I think the only way we can grow and get on in this world is to accept the fact we’re not perfect and live accordingly.”
― Ray Bradbury, The Illustrated Man
An archeologist is the best husband any woman can have: the older she gets, the more interested he is in her.
You get old and you realize there are no answers, just stories.
―Garrison Keillor, Pontoon: A Novel of Lake Wobegon
The great thing about getting older is that you don’t lose all the other ages you’ve been.
The paired butterflies are already yellow with August
Over the grass in the West garden;
They hurt me. I grow older.
Yet Byron never made tea as you do, who fill the pot so that when you put the lid on the tea spills over. There is a brown pool on the table―it is running among your books and papers. Now you mop it up, clumsily, with your pocket-hankerchief. You then stuff your hankerchief back into your pocket―that is not Byron; that is so essentially you that if I think of you in twenty years’ time, when we are both famous, gouty and intolerable, it will be by that scene: and if you are dead, I shall weep.
― Virginia Woolf, The Waves
The older I grow the more I distrust the familiar doctrine that age brings wisdom.
A boy from Brooklyn used to cruise on summer nights.
As soon as he’d hit sixty he’d hold his hand out the window,
cupping it around the wind. He’d been assured
this is exactly how a woman’s breast feels when you put
your hand around it and apply a little pressure. Now he knew,
and he loved it. Night after night, again and again, until
the weather grew cold and he had to roll the window up
For many years afterwards he was perpetually attempting
to soar. One winter’s night, holding his wife’s breast
in his hand, he closed his eyes and wanted to weep.
He loved her, but it was the wind he imagined now.
As he grew older, he loved the word etcetera and refused
to abbreviate it. He loved sweet white butter. He often
pretended to be playing the organ. On one of his last mornings,
he noticed the shape of his face molded in the pillow.
He shook it out, but the next morning it reappeared.
― Mary Ruefle
Instead of possibilities, I have realities in my past, not only the reality of work done and of love loved, but of sufferings bravely suffered. These sufferings are even the things of which I am most proud, though these are things which cannot inspire envy.
― Viktor E. Frankl, Man’s Search for Meaning
There are years that ask questions and years that answer.
―Zora Neale Hurston
Besides, it happens fast for some people and slow for some, accidents or gravity, but we all end up mutilated. Most women know this feeling of being more and more invisible everyday.
― Chuck Palahniuk, Invisible Monsters
Beautiful young people are accidents of nature, but beautiful old people are works of art.
There is only one cure for gray hair. It was invented by a Frenchman. It is called the guillotine.
The older I get, the more I meet people, the more convinced I am that we must only work on ourselves, to grow in grace. The only thing we can do about other people is to love them.
I just got a rather nasty shock. In looking for something or other I came across the fact that one of my cats is about to be nine years old, and that another of them will shortly thereafter be eight; I have been labouring under the delusion they were about five and six. And yesterday I happened to notice in the mirror that while I have long since grown used to my beard being very grey indeed, I was not prepared to discover that my eyebrows are becoming noticeably shaggy. I feel the tomb is just around the corner. And there are all these books I haven’t read yet, even if I am simultaneously reading at least twenty…
― Edward Gorey, Floating Worlds: The Letters of Edward Gorey and Peter F. Neumeyer
I was wise enough to never grow up while fooling most people into believing I had.
Few people know how to be old.
―Francois Duc de la Rochefoucauld
Maybe this is what growing old was like, she thought. Maybe the world gets smaller and smaller until there’s nothing but the walls around you to show you where you end and the rest of the world begins.
― Naomi Jackson, The Star Side of Bird Hill
“I should like to ask you: ― Does your childhood seem far off? Do the days when you sat at your mother’s knee, seem days of very long ago?” Responding to his softened manner, Mr. Lorry answered: “Twenty years back, yes; at this time of my life, no. For, as I draw closer and closer to the end, I travel in the circle, nearer and nearer to the beginning. It seems to be one of the kind smoothings and preparings of the way. My heart is touched now, by many remembrances that had long fallen asleep, of my pretty young mother (and I so old!), and by many associations of the days when what we call the World was not so real with me, and my faults were not confirmed with me.”
― Charles Dickens, A Tale of Two Cities
At 81, I don’t feel guilty about anything … There’s nothing inside that’s 81. It’s just the changes in the body. And the memory. I don’t remember where the keys are. Or as my son says, ‘Ma, it’s not that you don’t remember where you put the keys, it’s when you pick up your keys and you don’t know what they’re for’.
How far away the stars seem, and how far is our first kiss, and ah, how old my heart.
―William Butler Yeats
On the whole, age comes more gently to those who have some doorway into an abstract world-art, or philosophy, or learning-regions where the years are scarcely noticed and the young and old can meet in a pale truthful light.
We are not victims of aging, sickness, and death. These are part of scenery, not the seer, who is immune to any form of change. This seer is the spirit, the expression of eternal being.
At the other end of the room the three old men discussed infirmities; exchanging symptoms in undertones as boys might speak of lust.
― Shirley Hazzard, The Transit of Venus
Those who love deeply never grow old; they may die of old age, but they die young.
You will come to know things that can only be known with the wisdom of age and the grace of years. Most of those things will have to do with forgiveness.
― Cheryl Strayed, Tiny Beautiful Things: Advice on Love and Life from Dear Sugar
Being a child is like nothing. It’s only being. Later, when we think about it, we make it into youth.
― China Miéville, Embassytown
But if a role model in her seventies isn’t layered with contradictions – as we all come to be – then what good is she? Why bother to cut the silhouette of another’s existence and place it against our own if it isn’t as incongruous, ambiguous, inconsistent, and paradoxical as our own lives are?
― Molly Peacock, The Paper Garden: An Artist Begins Her Life’s Work at 72
Nothing is inherently and invincibly young except spirit. And spirit can enter a human being perhaps better in the quiet of old age and dwell there more undisturbed than in the turmoil of adventure.
In spite of illness, in spite even of the archenemy sorrow, one can remain alive long past the usual date of disintegration if one is unafraid of change, insatiable in intellectual curiosity, interested in big things, and happy in small ways.
― Edith Wharton
Life can only be understood backwards, but it must be lived forwards.
― Soren Kierkegaard
It was painful to contemplate the distance between the future of accomplishment I’d imagined for myself twenty years earlier, and the reality…it was painful to understand that the cushion of exceptionality invoked by the drug had made me oblivious to my inertia. And it was painful to have to define myself again, at an age when most people are happy in their own skins.
― Ann Marlowe, How to Stop Time: Heroin from A to Z
The years are going by us like huge birds, whom Doom and Destiny and the schemes of God have frightened up out of some old gray marsh.
― Lord Dunsany, A Dreamer’s Tales
Perhaps one has to be very old before one learns how to be amused rather than shocked.
― Pearl S. Buck, China, Past and Present
We could certainly slow the aging process down if it had to work its way through Congress.
One keeps on forgetting old age up to the very brink of the grave.
That is the greatest fallacy, the wisdom of old men. They do not grow wise. They grow careful.
― Ernest Hemingway, A Farewell to Arms
An old man with overalls walked by; I don’t think old people should wear overalls; it makes them look like shrivelly toddlers.
― Aimee Bender, The Color Master: Stories
One grey hair appeared on my head
I plucked it out with my hand.
It answered me: “You have prevailed against me alone –
What will you do when my army comes after me?”
– Yehuda Halevi
When men reach their sixties and retire they go to pieces. Women just go right on cooking.
In a man’s middle years there is scarcely a part of the body he would hesitate to turn over to the proper authorities.
Most people don’t grow up. Most people age. They find parking spaces, honor their credit cards, get married, have children, and call that maturity. What that is, is aging.
― Maya Angelou
At 50, everyone has the face he deserves.
― George Orwell
Women may be the one group that grows more radical with age.
― Gloria Steinem
How many loved your moments of glad grace,
And loved your beauty with love false or true;
But one man loved the pilgrim soul in you,
And loved the sorrows of your changing face.
― W.B. Yeats, The Collected Poems
The thing about old friends is not that they love you, but that they know you. They remember that disastrous New Year’s Eve when you mixed White Russians and champagne, and how you wore that red maternity dress until everyone was sick of seeing the blaze of it in the office, and the uncomfortable couch in your first apartment and the smoky stove in your beach rental. They look at you and don’t really think you look older because they’ve grown old along with you, and, like the faded paint in a beloved room, they’re used to the look. And then one of them is gone, and you’ve lost a chunk of yourself. The stories of the terrorist attacks of 2001, the tsunami, the Japanese earthquake always used numbers, the deaths of thousands a measure of how great the disaster. Catastrophe is numerical. Loss is singular, one beloved at a time.
― Anna Quindlen, Lots of Candles, Plenty of Cake
When I was younger, I could remember anything, whether it had happened or not; but my faculties are decaying now and soon I shall be so I cannot remember any but the things that never happened. It is sad to go to pieces like this but we all have to do it.
― Mark Twain
For after all we make our faces as we go along…
― May Sarton, Journal of a Solitude
I am now 33 years old, and it feels like much time has passed and is passing faster and faster every day. Day to day I have to make all sorts of choices about what is good and important and fun, and then I have to live with the forfeiture of all the other options those choices foreclose. And I’m starting to see how as time gains momentum my choices will narrow and their foreclosures multiply exponentially until I arrive at some point on some branch of all life’s sumptuous branching complexity at which I am finally locked in and stuck on one path and time speeds me through stages of stasis and atrophy and decay until I go down for the third time, all struggle for naught, drowned by time. It is dreadful. But since it’s my own choices that’ll lock me in, it seems unavoidable―if I want to be any kind of grownup, I have to make choices and regret foreclosures and try to live with them.
― David Foster Wallace, A Supposedly Fun Thing I’ll Never Do Again: Essays and Arguments
He remembers what I forget and I remember what he forgets. It’s too late for either of us to make another old friend.
― Abigail Thomas, What Comes Next and How to Like It: A Memoir
There is a line in Verlaine I shall not recall again,
There is a street close by forbidden to my feet,
There’s a mirror that’s seen me for the very last time,
There is a door that I have locked till the end of the world.
Among the books in my library (I have them before me)
There are some that I shall never open now.
This summer I complete my fiftieth year;
Death is gnawing at me ceaselessly.
― Jorge Luis Borges, Dreamtigers
Her face is silting up, like a pond; layers are accumulating. Every once in a while, when she can afford the time, she spends a few days at a spa north of the city, drinking vegetable juice and having ultrasound treatments, in search of her original face, the one she knows is under there somewhere; she comes back feeling toned up and virtuous, and hungry.
― Margaret Atwood, The Robber Bride
There comes a time in every Salome’s life when she should no longer be dropping the last veil.
― Harvey Fierstein, La Cage Aux Folles
And I’m not going to get any thinner or any younger, my ass is going to hit the ground, if it hasn’t already―and I want to be with somebody who can still see me in here. I’m still in here. And I don’t want to be resented or despised for changing…I’d rather be alone.
― Zadie Smith
More and more, he heard his spine playing stick games through his skin, singing old dusty words, the words of all his years.
― Sherman Alexie, The Lone Ranger and Tonto Fistfight in Heaven
The Babies we were are buried, and their shadows are plodding on.
― Emily Dickinson
I do not dye my hair black
so as to be young again and sin again
but because people dye their clothes black in mourning,
so I have dyed my hair black, mourning for my old age.
Three days a week she helped at the Manor Nursing Home, where people proved their keenness by reciting received analyses of current events. All the Manor residents watched television day and night, informed to the eyeballs like everyone else and rushed for time, toward what end no one asked. Their cupidity and self-love were no worse than anyone else’s, but their many experiences’ having taught them so little irked Lou. One hated tourists, another southerners; another despised immigrants. Even dying, they still held themselves in highest regard. Lou would have to watch herself. For this way of thinking began to look like human nature―as if each person of two or three billion would spend his last vital drop to sustain his self-importance.
― Annie Dillard, The Maytrees
I learned not to fear infinity,
The far field, the windy cliffs of forever,
The dying of time in the white light of tomorrow,
The wheel turning away from itself,
The sprawl of the wave,
The on-coming water.
― Theodore Roethke
Perhaps this was part of growing older, to undergo hideous alterations in the deepest certainties, in love, in lovers, finally in one’s self.
― Elizabeth Harrower, In Certain Circles
I used to be a poet.
My words were traded in marketplaces like pieces of gold.
Merchants bought my verses for as much as they paid for saffron and Indian jade.
Now I am old…
drunk on wine and candle fumes.
Alone in this barren room, I speak my psalms to the night air
so as to entertain moths before they go off to die.
I used to be a poet
and my words were gold.
― Roman Payne
Once when he was still young, I saw a bit of his scalp showing through his hair and I was afraid. But it was just a cowlick. Now sometimes it shows through for real, but I feel only tenderness.
― Jenny Offill, Dept. of Speculation
Forty-two. His age had astounded him for years, and each time that he had sat so astounded, trying to figure out what had become of the young, slim man in his twenties, a whole additional year slipped by and had to be recorded, a continually growing sum which he could not reconcile with his self-image. He still saw himself, in his mind’s eye, as youthful, and when he caught sight of himself in photographs he usually collapsed … Somebody took my actual physical presence away and substituted this, he had thought from time to time. Oh well, so it went.
― Philip K. Dick, A Maze of Death
A doctor to whom I occasionally talk suggest that I have made an inadequate adjustment to aging.
Wrong, I want to say.
In fact I have made no adjustment whatsoever to aging.
In fact I had lived my entire life to date without seriously believing that I would age.
― Joan Didion, Blue Nights
As you ripen, you’ll notice that time is the weirdest thing in the world, that these surprises are relentless, and that getting older is not a stroll but an ambush.
― Andrew Solomon
Beautiful surroundings, the society of learned men, the charm of noble women, the graces of art, could not make up for the loss of those light-hearted mornings of the desert, for that wind that made one a boy again. He had noticed that this peculiar quality in the air of new countries vanished after they were tamed by man and made to bear harvests. Parts of Texas and Kansas that he had first known as open range had since been made into rich farming districts, and the air had quite lost that lightness, that dry, aromatic odour. The moisture of plowed land, the heaviness of labour and growth and grain-bearing, utterly destroyed it; one could breathe that only on the bright edges of the world, on the great grass plains or the sage-brush desert.
― Willa Cather, Death Comes for the Archbishop
It was dawning on the wizards that they were outside the University, at night and without permission, for the first time in decades. A certain suppressed excitement crackled from man to man. Any watch trained in reading body language would have been prepared to bet that, after the click, someone was going to suggest that they might as well go somewhere and have a few drinks, and then someone else would fancy a meal, and then there was always room for a few more drinks, and then it would be 5 a.m. and the city guards would be respectfully knocking on the University gates and asking if the Archchancellor would care to step down to the cells to identify some alleged wizards who were singing an obscene song in six-part harmony, and perhaps he would also care to bring some money to pay for all the damage. Because inside every old person is a young person wondering what happened. ― Terry Pratchett, Moving Pictures
Age and illness made one a dualist ― Ursula K. Le Guin
So you must not think a man has lived long because he has white hair and wrinkles: he has not lived long, just existed long. For suppose you should think that a man had had a long voyage who had been caught in a raging storm as he left harbour, and carried hither and thither and driven round and round in a circle by the rage opposing winds. He did not have a long voyage, just a long tossing about.
― Seneca, On the Shortness of Life
In these days of physical fitness, hair dye, and plastic surgery, you can live much of your life without feeling or even looking old. But then one day, your knee goes, or your shoulder, or your back, or your hip. Your hot flashes come to an end; things droop. Spots appear. Your cleavage looks like a peach pit. If your elbows faced forward, you would kill yourself. You’re two inches shorter than you used to be. You’re ten pounds fatter and you cannot lose a pound of it to save your soul. Your hands don’t work as well as they once did and you can’t open bottles, jars, wrappers, and especially those gadgets that are encased tightly in what seems to be molded Mylar. If you were stranded on a desert island and your food were sealed in plastic packaging, you would starve to death. You take so many pills in the morning you don’t have room for breakfast.
You lose close friends and discover one of the worst truths of old age: they’re irreplaceable. People who run four miles a day and eat only nuts and berries drop dead. People who drink a quart of whiskey and smoke two packs of cigarettes a day drop dead. You are suddenly in a lottery, the ultimate game of chance, and someday your luck will run out. Everybody dies. There’s nothing you can do about it. Whether or not you eat six almonds a day. Whether or not you believe in God.
― Nora Ephron, I Remember Nothing
I don’t ask for your pity, but just for your understanding – not even that – no. Just for some recognition of me in you, and the enemy, time, in us all.
― Tennessee Williams, Sweet Bird of Youth
I felt old. Again. It had been happening a lot lately. I did not live the life of an old lady, but I could hear it beckoning to me, like a mermaid on a rock.
— Michelle Tea, Paris: A Lie
[The thief-taker] was conspicuous by his age, I should estimate he is in his middle fifties, and by a bearing, I am tempted to call it dignity, wanting in the others. He has a good head of hair, only a bit thin on top, blond going grey, and sea green eyes. He has an excellently carved set of teeth, but displays them rarely. He has a trim figure, unusual in a profession that consists largely of loitering around taverns, but any illusion that he is especially fit is dispelled when he begins to move, for he is a little bit halt, and a little bit lame, stiff in the joints and given to frequent sighs and grimaces that hint at pains internal.
― Neal Stephenson
Though Jonah felt transfixed inside his own childhood, no one else saw him as a child. He was already over the hump of middle age, heading rapidly toward those years that no one like to speak of. The best parts had already passed for people Jonah’s age. By now you were meant to have become what you would finally be, and to gracefully and unobtrusively stay in that state for the rest of your life.
― Meg Wolitzer, The Interestings
When you are a young person, you are like a young creek, and you meet many rocks, many obstacles and difficulties on your way. You hurry to get past these obstacles and get to the ocean. But as the creek moves down through the fields, it becomes larger and calmer and it can enjoy the reflection of the sky. It’s wonderful. You will arrive at the sea anyway so enjoy the journey. Enjoy the sunshine, the sunset, the moon, the birds, the trees, and the many beauties along the way. Taste every moment of your daily life.
― Thích Nhất Hạnh, Good Citizens: Creating Enlightened Society
Age has given me what I was looking for my entire life – it has given me me. It has provided time and experience and failures and triumphs and time-tested friends who have helped me step into the shape that was waiting for me. I fit into me now. I have an organic life, finally, not necessarily the one people imagined for me, or tried to get me to have. I have the life I longed for. I have become the woman I hardly dared imagine I would be.
― Anne Lamott, Plan B: Further Thoughts on Faith
Put away these frozenjawed primates and their annals of ways beset and ultimate dark. What deity in the realms of dementia, what rabid god decocted out of the smoking lobes of hydrophobia could have devised a keeping place for souls so poor as is this flesh. This gawky wormbent tabernacle.
― Cormac McCarthy, Suttree
I once laughed at the vanity of women of thirty or forty who whitened their ruddy old skin with lead, but now I know such salves are not disguises for old crones who wish to catch a young husband. Instead they are only a mask we wear so that we can, for a little while, still recognize ourselves.
― Rebecca Johns, The Countess
“I know what’s wrong with me – I could never stand still for death! Which you’ve got to do by a certain age, or be ridiculous – you’ve got to stand there nobly and serene, and let death run his tape on your arms and around your belly and up your crotch until he’s got you fitted for that black suit. And I can’t, I won’t!… So I’m left with wrestling with this anachronistic energy which God has charged me with and I will use it till the dirt is shoveled in my mouth! Life! Life! Fuck death and dying!
― Arthur Miller, The Ride Down Mt. Morgan
Like the culture that created me, I am receding into the past at a rate of knots. Soon I’ll need a whole row of footnotes if anybody under thirty-five is going to comprehend the least thing I say.
― Angela Carter, Burning Your Boats: The Collected Short Stories
One by one they are being picked off around him: in his small circle of colleagues the ratio slowly grows top-heavy, more ghosts, more each winter, and fewer living… and with each one, he thinks he feels patterns on his cortex going dark, settling to sleep forever, parts of whoever he’s been losing all definition, reverting to dumb chemistry…
― Thomas Pynchon, Gravity’s Rainbow
This is the true wine of astonishment: “We are not over when we think we are.”
― Alice Walker
I have a friend who likes to date younger women because their stories are shorter. Old men like us, our stories are longer.
― Jerry Uelsmann
Do you suppose you will look the same when you are an old woman as you do now? Most folk have three faces—the face they get when they’re children, the face they own when they’re grown, and the face they’ve earned when they’re old. But when you live as long as I have, you get many more. I look nothing like I did when I was a wee thing of thirteen. You get the face you build your whole life, with work and loving and grieving and laughing and frowning.
― Catherynne M. Valente, The Girl Who Fell Beneath Fairyland and Led the Revels There
I advise you to go on living solely to enrage those who are paying your annuities. It is the only pleasure I have left. ―Voltaire
When you get older, you think of sadness in a different way. You don’t judge it so harshly.”
― Lori Lansens, The Mountain Story