Tasting the Marmalade
January 12, 2014
Hi. I’m Judy’s husband, Peter, and she has invited me to be a guest blogger again. Perhaps she thought that I might have some more wisdom to share about life in one’s seventies, since I’m in my eighties and I’ve been through the full catastrophe. But I’d rather talk about life in my decade. Judy’s next one.
This morning, at breakfast, I stopped reading the newspaper and paid attention to what I was eating – a good piece of bread, toasted, spread with unsalted butter and topped with orange marmalade. I’ve been ignoring my breakfast while reading the paper for years.
But when you’re in your eighties, you realize that the number of breakfasts you’re going to eat is finite. Oh sure, they’ve been finite all along, but small numbers are more finite than big ones. As there are fewer of them left, they are getting more precious.
It’s not just the days that are getting fewer. So are the things I can do and enjoy. I can no longer ride my bicycle to Harvard Square, let alone down the “D” roads of France. I can no longer see well enough to drive at night and one of these days I won’t be able to drive at all. I’m losing my sense of smell. My memory isn’t what it used to be.
However, having less left is making what I still have seem more valuable. I think Martin Amis got it right when he said “I find that in your 60s everything begins to look sort of slightly magical again. And it’s imbued with a kind of leave-taking resonance.”
I’m finding that leave-taking resonance in my 80s. I suspect that it’s findable at any age.
It was many years ago when Judy and I shared an office at the Cambridge Research Institute. We talked about you, Peter, and indulged in junk food every Friday afternoon. I for one am happy to see your photo in Seth's NYT piece, which I always read.
I was the kid -- that's what Judy called me in the late 1960s at work -- but now I'm almost 68. I live in Tucson with my partner, Dan. My fabulous kids are 33 and 36. I too have a blog, tucsonwritereditor.com.
Judy, we're still enjoying some of the same words! I also loved "The Goldfinch" and have used that Martin Amis quote as my email sig.
It's good to see what you're all up to after all these years. Happy New Year to all the Kugels!
Posted by: Sheila Wilensky | January 12, 2014 at 06:45 PM
It kicked in for me in my late fifties; it has the salutary effect of making the good things look more precious and the bad things look more unimportant. Surely that's worth something.
Posted by: CGHill | January 12, 2014 at 10:12 PM
Nice post Peter. I like that phrase 'leave-taking resonance' and your story about stopping to eat your breakfast mindfully. I'm 'only' 71 but am definitely starting to feel that extra edge of not knowing how much longer I've got.
Posted by: Juliet | January 13, 2014 at 03:36 AM
Leave-taking resonance strikes a chord with me as well, though I just turned 60 (and in my head, frequently still find myself feeling 20 again when I work on math problems that make me travel back in time. So grateful for that math-enabled time travel, even as I realize that perhaps my brain doesn't work quite as quickly as it once did.)
My husband would have turned 60 last Monday, but sadly did not make it that far. He died, unexpectedly but peacefully, last May. But I think in some sense, he had leave-taking resonance for most of his adult life, because he had lost his own father when he was a 10-year-old boy and his father was only 40.
Life is a wondrous gift to be cherished. The legacy of the many precious memories my husband created for our family, perhaps with an acuter awareness than my own that his own time was finite, is a great blessing, one to be paid forward.
Posted by: Mary O'Keeffe | January 13, 2014 at 07:29 AM
i personally dont know either one of you but i learned about Judy's blog thru one of Seth's articles and i have been hooked ever since. my mom is 80.5 and altho we dont live nearby, i call her every week, sometimes day after day. reading this blog has helped me cope with the process of aging and living through it. Peter, your guest blog today warmed my heart. if i could give you a hug, i would. i am only 43 and i am already scared of the what and when of ahead. i am scared for my mom. i hope you no longer have any further catastrophes as you mentioned as i pray no more for my mom. God bless you and Judy and may we all age with love and peace and no catastrophes.
Posted by: gareth | January 13, 2014 at 06:50 PM
I just re-blogged this post at www.ninamishkin.com ("The Getting Old Blog") and added the following comment:
"One of the non-WordPress blogs I follow through email is The 70-Something Blog, by Judy F. Kugel. A recently retired assistant dean at The Kennedy School of Government at Harvard, Judy has been posting twice a week for six years, since she turned seventy. I only discovered her, though, when I began blogging last November. Her posts are an astringent antidote to mine. She is neat, organized, efficient. Or presents that way online. Reading her is good for me.
Several days ago, Judy asked her husband Peter to do a guest post. Peter, a professor of cognitive science at Boston College (who I believe has now also retired), is in his eighties. His post therefore had a great deal of resonance for me. ["Resonance" is his word, and also Martin Amis's, as you will see below.] The post isn’t just for old folks, though. Which is why I’ve re-blogged it here. I do wish he hadn’t referred to his seventies as a 'catastrophe,' but maybe he was just playing funny guy."
Posted by: Nina Mishkin | January 18, 2014 at 11:50 PM