Every so often – shall I call it a chance encounter? It’s happened to all of us. “I’d like you to meet…. I’m sure you have a lot in common.” It starts like that. You gradually discover that the other and you think alike, or that what the other says is something you may have
wanted to say, but never got around to putting into words. You feel at home, as if you’ve always known each other.
Your newfound friend may be a real live person, but then might exist only in one of the books you’re reading. You could swear you knew them, would recognize them if you met them on one of your daily walks. Yet the person behind the scenes who created them, remains … behind the scenes. Olive Kitteridge is real for me, but not Elisabeth Strout, about whom I may know next to nothing. In the end, does it matter? When I was younger, Olive might not have appealed to me as much, but now that our lives are following a similar course, albeit our personalities are not all that much alike, I can only marvel at how Strout, not yet 65, succeeded in entering the mind of her character.
I am fascinated by Count Alexander Rostov, not by Amor Towles, his literary godfather. Things change a bit when it comes to real life friends such as Pico Iyer and his life among the flaming autumn leaves of Kyoto and the gradual aging of his wife’s relatives. Penelope Lively too is someone whose life I can share although when she wrote A Life in Time she put seventy as the bridge where one crosses over into old age. Now that she is over 80 she might change her mind.
Perhaps as we grow older, we do think differently about the passing of the years.
Then there is Tim Parks and Beppe Servignani. And many others, some of whom I would really like to talk with and others whom I let do all the talking.
The books my granddaughter wanted to share with me were centered on her contemporaries and while they helped me understand her generation, they were not my world.
I turn to these friends, and many others, as I face the future for I have already crossed the bridge of 90 years. It is comforting to marvel at and take courage from the words of Oliver Sacks as he neared the end of his allotted or not allotted time. I share his feeling of gratitude to those who have given me their friendship, to which I can add the gift of having two fine sons. “I have loved and been loved; I have been given much and I have given something in return; I have read and traveled and thought and written. I have had an intercourse with the world, the special intercourse of writers and readers. Above all, I have been a sentient being, a thinking animal, on this beautiful planet, and that in itself has been an enormous privilege and adventure.”