We live in a youth-obsessed world. Young matters. Age matters. We want to look 25 when we’re 30 and didn’t you know, 50 is the new 40.
I used to think I would grow old gracefully. I scoffed at the idea of botox, peels or any other treatment for my face…because I had the face of youth. Now, as I mature, I realize my opinions on these matters are changing…maybe one day I will be willing to sacrifice the use of my eyebrows for a smooth forehead or the width of my smile for smooth cheeks and expressionless eyes…maybe not.
But, aging is not an issue only of the surface. It goes deep. Deep into our muscles, bones, synapses, memories…and plays evil tricks.
I wasn’t expecting for so much of Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s Love in the Time of Cholera to focus so much on aging, what we feel as we age, what we fear and how it affects us. Here are some passages on aging in the book:
“…men blossomed in a kind of autumnal youth, they seemed more dignified with their first gray hairs, they became witty and seductive, above all in the eyes of young women while their withered wives had to clutch at their arms so as not to trip over their own shadows.” (256) The double-standard of aging – men get better with age, women don’t – was alive and well in the era of the book’s story (turn of last century). Age is not wise, revered or well worn. It is cruel and burdensome, especially for women.
“A few years later, however, the husbands fell without warning down the precipice of humiliating aging in body and soul, and then it was their wives who recovered and had to lead them by the arm as if they were blind men on charity…” (256) Any advantage men have over women is yanked away quickly, according to this novel, and they are cruelly left with a decrepit body. Age makes you dependent upon another.
“Florentino Ariza had seen himself reflected so often in that mirror that he was never as afraid of death as he was of reaching that humiliating age when he would have to be led on a woman’s arm.” (257) All sense of free will, self-sufficiency is lost.
Have I thoroughly depressed you yet? I’m depressed…if that’s where I’m headed then bring on the botox! (At least I’ll be wrinkle free when I’m tripping over my own shadow).
Seriously though, I wasn’t expecting this kind of portrayal about aging…the last novel I read about an old woman was Margaret Laurence’s The Stone Angel – and, for all it’s literary merits, it pretty much killed any interest I had in an older protagonist. Robertson Davies’ Fifth Business shows the aging of characters – but, more of the psychological effect that our youth has on our old age. This novel describes the the fear of physical aging and it makes sense since it is about (a supposed) love that lasts half a century (more or less).
Old age consumes bodies and minds…but, in none of these characters, does it consume their spirit.
Fermina Daza remains honourable, rigid, enraged. Dr. Juvenal Urbino is true to his meticulous perfectionism. Florentino Ariza devotes himself to love in any form.
Age might do away with who we are physically, but isn’t it the spirit that matters most?
What are your views on aging? Have you come across any characters that have challenged those views for you?