The famous French writer Andre Maurois is familiar to the Russian reader primarily from Letters to a Stranger, and also from Literary Portraits.
In the book “The Art of Living”, which has not been translated into Russian, Andre Maurois reflects on love and friendship, marriage, happiness, and old age, and draws conclusions that, perhaps, will seem interesting to you.
We offer an excerpt on the art of aging.
The wind of change
Aging is a strange process. So strange that we often find it hard to believe it. Only when we see what impact time has had on our peers, do we, as in a mirror, observe what it has done to us. For in our own eyes we are still young.
We have the same hopes and fears as when we were young. Our mind is still alive, and our strength, it would seem, has not dried up. We are doing an experiment: “Can I climb this hill as fast as I did when I was young?
Yes, I was a little out of breath when I got to the top, but I spent the same amount of time and, most likely, I was a little out of breath before.”
The transition from youth to old age is so slow that the person to whom it happens hardly notices it. When autumn replaces summer, these transformations are so gradual that they cannot be caught. However, in some cases, autumn “attacks” suddenly.
For the time being, she hides behind slightly “discolored” leaves of trees, but one November morning, the wind suddenly rips off the golden mask, and the exhausted skeleton of winter is revealed behind it. The leaves, which we thought were alive, turned out to be dead and barely holding on to the branches.
The strong wind only exposed the evil but did not cause it. A man or woman may appear young despite their age. “She is charming,” we say. Or, “He’s in great shape.” We admire their activity, their insightful mind, and their ability to carry on a conversation.
But one day we notice that having committed an imprudent act, for which a young person would pay with nothing more than a headache or a cold, they pay with a heart attack or pneumonia.
A few days after such a “storm” their faces turn pale, their backs bend, and their eyes lose their luster. So one moment turns us into old men. This means that we began to age long before it.
When does the autumn equinox occur in our lives?
The famous philosopher Konrad said that when a person turns 40, he seems to see a shadow line in front of him and, crossing it, sadly notes that the charm of youth has left him forever.
Then we draw the shadow line at 50, and those who cross it experience some fear and brief bouts of despair, although they are still quite active.
Old age is much more than gray hair, wrinkles, and thinking that the game is played, that the scene belongs to the young.
The real evil in old age is not the weakness of the body, but the indifference of the soul.
Behind the shadow line, we see people and the world as they are, without illusions. The old man asks himself the question: “Why?” This is perhaps the most dangerous phrase. One day the old man will say to himself, “Why fight? Why leave home? Why get out of bed?”
With the exception of the simplest organisms, which manage to avoid aging by dividing into two new organisms, old age sets in for every living being. Why is it that the May butterfly has only two hours of lovemaking, while the tortoise and parrot can live for two centuries? Why are pike and carp allowed to live 300 years, while Byron and Mozart only 30?
The average life expectancy 150 years ago was 40 years, today in most civilized countries it is about 70 years. If wars and revolutions do not worsen the ecological situation, then 100 years will be a normal life expectancy in the next century. But this will not affect, however, the problem of aging.
Coconut tree of life
The closer living beings are to nature, the harder they treat their elders. An aging wolf enjoys the respect of his pack only as long as he can overtake the victim and kill her.
Kipling, in his The Jungle Book, described the fury of young wolves who were led to hunting by an old wolf losing his strength. The day Akela missed the prey was the end of his career. The toothless old wolf was driven out of the pack by his young comrades.
In this respect, primitive people are like animals. A traveler who visited Africa told of how an old chief begged him to give him hair dye. “If the people of my tribe notice that I am turning gray, they will kill me.”
Residents of one of the islands of the South Sea forced the old men to climb coconut trees and then shook them. If the old man did not fall, then he received the right to live; if he fell from a tree, then he was sentenced to death. This custom seems cruel, but we also have our own coconut trees!
About statesmen, actors, and lecturers, one day they can say: “He is over.” In many cases, this means a death sentence, for the reason that poverty comes with retirement, or weakness comes as a result of desperation. Wars become a common coconut tree for everyone.
Among the peasants, where life is closer to nature, physical strength still regulates the relationship between generations. In cities, the triumph of youth is more evident during revolutions and rapid changes in society, as youth adapts to change faster than old age.
And, on the contrary, in civilized countries, where there are many wealthy people, there is a tendency to take care of the elderly and pay tribute to them. Old people are not abandoned, because, in a world where there has been no change for a long time, the experience becomes especially valuable.
However, the old leader, who made a career in his youth, is exhausted to look young. Like an old wolf, he tries to hide his helplessness. Thus, youth and old age interchange each other, alternating in a natural rhythm.
It is useless to wish it were otherwise. Perhaps the best scheme for the existence of two generations would be the following: the young are in command, and the wise old men occupy the positions of state advisers.
Tyranny of the past
Old age brings endless hardships. However, if you want to fight them, you must calmly acknowledge them. When a doctor comes to a seriously ill patient, he says, “Here’s what happens if you don’t take care of yourself.”
He then lists the symptoms, each more severe than the last, and reassures, “None of these symptoms will develop if you take preventive measures.”
So I want to tell you about what troubles you may encounter in old age and how to avoid them if you warn.
An aging body is like a long-running engine. With careful attention to him, care, and timely prevention, he can still serve well. Of course, he will no longer be the same as before, and too much cannot be demanded of him.
But with a reasonable attitude towards your body, you can maintain activity in old age.
Old people develop amazing selfishness that prevents them from making friends with the young. If it were not for him, then warmth, being connected with experience, on the contrary, would attract young people.
One of the signs of old age is stinginess. The old man knows that it is not so easy for him to earn money, and therefore he saves what he already has. Another reason for stinginess: every living being must have a passion, and the passion for money may well replace the absence of other passions.
Covetousness becomes a game with old people, and those who play it find extraordinary pleasure in accumulating money. This game does not require strength, youth, or health.
Older people tend to have weak brains and find it difficult to come up with new ideas, so they stick to the ideas they had when he was young. Objections infuriate them, as they regard it as disrespectful to themselves. It is difficult for them to keep up with the times, and they continue to remember their past again and again.
Loneliness is the greatest evil in old age; old friends and relatives leave one by one, and these losses cannot be replaced. Old age takes strength and takes away pleasure.
“Old age is a tyrant,” said La Rochefoucauld, “who forbids the pleasures of youth, threatening the punishment with death.” First of all, violent love, characteristic of the young, is “forbidden”. Elderly people sometimes worry that their physical desires do not match their capabilities. In many cases, it’s not just the body that ages. But also the soul.
In ancient Greek history, a case is known when one of the patricians who loved a woman all his life, who for his sake left her husband, children, and friends, lost the respect of the people of her circle. He could not marry her because he was already married. She devoted herself to his pleasures, his career. His work.
Subsequently, their love affair turned into a tender and long friendship. He was 80 years old and she was 70, they saw each other every day. When the woman died, everyone who knew the patrician was very sorry for him. Everyone said, “He can’t take it.”
However, he quickly recovered from the shock. He was not only too old to love but too old to suffer.
Wear wigs and necklaces!
The art of aging is to deal with these troubles. But is it possible if they attack the body? Isn’t old age a natural biological change of the body, the inevitability of which must be accepted?
Civilization and experience have taught people to fight, if not with old age, then with its external manifestations. Elegant clothes and well-chosen jewelry draw the eye and divert attention from physical flaws.
The use of jewelry plays a special role. The soft iridescence of a pearl necklace makes you forget about the shortcomings of the neck. The brilliance of rings and bracelets hides the age of hands and wrists. Beautiful hairpins and earrings, like a tattoo among primitive tribes, affect the imagination so much that wrinkles on the face can be overlooked.
To do everything to smooth the differences between youth and old age is the act of civilized people.
Wigs were invented to hide thinning hair or baldness. Skillful use of cosmetics helps to mask the signs of skin aging. The art of dressing, especially after a certain age, lies in the ability to hide your shortcomings.
It is often said that the age of a person is determined not by his years, but by the state of his vessels and bones. A person at 50 may look older than 70. A well-trained body remains flexible for a long time, and then aging is not accompanied by numerous diseases.
Wisdom lies in exercising every day, not occasionally. It is impossible to stop the onset of old age, but it is desirable to deny it.
The famous philosopher Montaigne said: “I prefer to be old for a long time, and not to become so prematurely.”
The soul, like the body, also needs exercise. Therefore, one should not reject love in old age just because it does not seem ridiculous.
There is nothing funny about two old people loving each other. Respect, tender affection, and admiration have no age.
It often happens that when youth and passions go away, love acquires a certain asceticism, which is not without its charm.
Thus, the joint existence of a couple resembles a river, which at the beginning of the current rushes, jumping over boulders, but clear waters flow more calmly, approaching the sea, and stars are reflected on its wide surface.
Love in old age can be as sincere and touching as in youth. Victor Hugo told how he was touched when he saw Madame Recamier and Chateaubriand together. She was blind and he was paralyzed. “Every day at 3 o’clock Chateaubriand was brought to Madame Recamier”.
A woman who could no longer see anything sought the company of a man who could no longer feel anything; their hands met, they were close to death, but they still loved each other.”
Not out of the game
Emotional life does not consist of love impulses alone.
Older people’s attachment to their grandchildren often fills their lives. We rejoice in their joys, suffer when they suffer, love when they love, and take part in their struggle.
How can we feel left out of the game if they play it instead of us! How can we be unhappy if they are happy! How nice to see that they enjoy the books that we have recommended to them.
Grandparents often get along with their grandchildren faster than they do with their children. Even physically they are closer to grandchildren. They cannot run with their son, but they can run with their grandson. Our first and last steps have the same rhythm.
Also, people age more slowly if they have valid reasons to live. It is believed that a person exhausts himself if he is very active in old age. Just the opposite. Aging is nothing more than a bad habit that a busy person doesn’t have time to follow.
In many cases, old people are better leaders than young people. Old diplomats and doctors are experienced and wise, because they are not distracted by young passions, and they can reason calmly.
Cicero said: “Great things are done not by physical strength, but by the mature wisdom of old age.”
Line of light
There are two reasonable ways to grow old. The first is not to get old. It is for those who manage to avoid old age by leading an active lifestyle. The second is to accept old age with calmness and detachment. The time for fighting has passed.
There are old people who not only envy the young but pity them because the stormy sea of life still lies at their feet. Deprived of some of the pleasures of youth, these people feel with particular acuteness those pleasures that they have left.
There are several ways to grow old unpleasantly. The worst of them is trying to hold on to something that cannot be returned. Unfortunately, there are people whose life is poisoned until the last days of constant dissatisfaction.
The art of growing old is the art of behaving in such a way as to be a support for the next generations, and not a stumbling block, a confidant, not a rival.
We should also talk about retirement. Some people take it hard. Meanwhile, for a person who has retained the ability to be surprised, retirement can be a pleasant moment in his life. At home, in his garden, he can finally do what he loves.
It will be even more interesting to live with someone who has always been worried about poetry, books, and the beauties of nature. The works of great writers are our immortal friends.
Music is also an extremely devoted friend. For those of us who are disillusioned with people, music is a departure to another, beautiful world.
Pascal said: “A person’s life can be called happy if he begins it with love and ends it, having reached the heights of ambition.” If ambitions are satisfied, then life in old age proceeds more calmly.
Thus, 10 or 20 years after a person has crossed the “line of shadow”, he can cross the “line of light”. He is calm and happy. His openness and friendliness speak of the state of his soul.
No, old age is not hell, above the entrance is inscribed: “Abandon hope, everyone who enters here.” If old people are worthy of friendship, they are surrounded by friends even in old age. And, finally, the fear of death in old age can be overcome by faith and philosophy.
It’s just time to sleep
Will science ever be able to make sure that old age does not destroy our bodies? Is it possible to create a fountain of youth in whose waters we could bathe in order to become young again? Biologists managed to achieve this in experiments on the simplest organisms. But does a person need to live that long?
At 80, a person has already experienced everything: love and its end, ambition and subsequent devastation; a few naive illusions, and the sobering that comes after their collapse.
The fear of death is not very great in old age; all affections and interests are in the past and concern those people who have already died.
When HG Wells was honored on his 70th birthday, he gave a speech in which he noted that this event revived his childhood impressions. Nanny used to say to him, “Henry, you should go to bed.” He usually protested, but deep down he knew that sleep would bring him rest.
“Death is the same kind and at the same time strict nanny, and when the time comes, she says:
“Henry, it’s time for you to sleep.” We protest a little, but we know well that it’s time to rest, and in the depths of our hearts we are waiting for this.