When my father was approaching 92 years of age and still living with my mother in their own home – on the heels of a lifetime of diplomatic excesses such as first class tours on transatlantic ocean liners, private planes, private clubs, cooks and chauffeurs – it was not uncommon to hear him say, “All I want is peace and quiet“. Not an appetite which at the moment resounds especially well for me. Nor I suspect would my late mother have had much truck with it. Indeed her routine remark upon returning from a diplomatic tour was, “Instant poverty!” She rather disliked the Cinderella theme of a night at the palace.
The incremental decline of life affects us in many different ways, not just the whimsical glances at our youth. I have attempted to surmount the natural obstacles to aging by avoiding anything for which I cannot rely upon an agent. This succinct agenda is legalese for handing management of one’s affairs to a delegate preferably of perpetual existence; namely, a corporate proxy, surrogate, broker, manager, mouthpiece or trustee. I am anxious to distance myself from tarsome business necessities so that I might devote what time remains to what are for me the finer things in life.
Like my father, I have distilled life’s pleasures – but without as yet the single ingredient of being left alone. Certainly my prescription includes the benefit of social exchanges. But I confess I have critically narrowed the focus to distinguish acquaintance, friendship and family (in that order of accession). It seems I have unwittingly fallen into error by mistakenly assuming that relationships of any degree are equal. They are not. Nor of course should they be. It is the crystallization of those communal evaporations which propels the mind to accept what has so painfully been summarized as, “No one’s listening, no one cares“.
My private luxuries include art, music and literature. Each of them is a manifestation of self-expression; that is, I live it by performance not merely the more casual experience of museums, concerts or readings. Involvement in the production is paramount. I have for example commissioned craftsmen (woodworkers, contractors, gardeners, sculptures and jewellers); I persist to play my piano; and, I write. The choices are unquestionably beyond criticism one way or the other – it’s a strictly private realm. What ultimately matters to each of us – what we characterize as the finer things in life – is far too complicated to pretend to assess by some preconceived universal standard.
The carcass within which we transport all this material is perhaps the weakest link in the chain that holds it all together. Without however having to dwell with precision upon physical frailty and its multiple variations, I am wont to remark upon the levity afforded me by the automobile. It too is an example of vicarious performance, an empathetic substitute. I am spared the embarrassment of dwelling upon what are for many people the insignificant particulars of gold and silver by alighting instead upon the more popularly acceptable account of the engineering flights arising from the combustion (and soon to be electric) engines. Admittedly I am shamefully in that category of “living room on wheels” but I maintain I have with time synthesized the many features of the current passenger vehicle to the point of recognition of its singular achievements. Mentioning to me, “learning how to drive”, is as alarming as “learning how to walk”; both are enterprises I have adopted as though by natural absorption. And both are skills. That I have spent a lifetime improving the talent does nothing to detract from the refinement.