“The thing about growing older, dear,” she once told me, “is that you don’t ever stop being the age you were, you just add each new age to it. So I never envy the young, because I’m still twenty years old myself, and thirty, and forty, and so on. By the time you’re my age, you have so many selves to be, and draw upon, and enjoy, that I can only feel compassion for young people, who still have so very few.”
It won’t fix the economy. It won’t stop wars. It won’t give you flat abs, or better sex or even help you figure out your relationship and what you want to do with your life. But it’s important. It helps you remember that you and your problems are both infinitesimally small and conversely, that you are a piece of an amazing and vast universe. I do it daily—it helps.
Let a life-threatening crisis arise, and small kindnesses such as an encouraging word, the touch of a hand on the shoulder, or just the presence of another person suddenly take on a depth of significance heretofore unimagined. Even the bravest among us, the most self-reliant, experience an inner strengthening from such human contact. The circumstances may still be just as grim, but somehow they don’t seem as dark or foreboding. Therefore when the storms of life come crashing in, the first thing we need to do is ask for help. Remember it is not weakness but wisdom that causes us to seek the help of others rather than trying to go it alone.
Of course, by now I’ve also made friends with Giovanni and Dario, my Tandem Language Exchange fantasy twins. Giovanni’s sweetness, in my opinion, makes him a national treasure of Italy. He endeared himself to me forever the first night we met, when I was getting frustrated with my inability to find the words I wanted in Italian, and he put his hand on my arm and said, “Liz, you must be very polite with yourself when you are learning something new.”
As you set out for Ithaca
hope that your journey is a long one,
full of adventure, full of discovery.
Laestrygonians and Cyclops,
angry Poseidon—don’t be afraid of them:
you’ll never find things like that on your way
as long as you keep your thoughts raised high,
as long as a rare sensation
touches your spirit and your body.
Laestrygonians and Cyclops,
wild Poseidon—you won’t encounter them
unless you bring them along inside your soul,
unless your soul sets them up in front of you.
Hope that your journey is a long one.
May there be many summer mornings when,
with what pleasure, what joy,
you come into harbors you’re seeing for the first time;
may you stop at Phoenician trading stations
to buy fine things,
mother of pearl and coral, amber and ebony,
sensual perfume of every kind—
as many sensual perfumes as you can;
and may you visit many Egyptian cities
to learn and learn again from those who know.
Keep Ithaca always in your mind.
Arriving there is what you’re destined for.
But don’t hurry the journey at all.
Better if it lasts for years,
so that you’re old by the time you reach the island,
wealthy with all you’ve gained on the way,
not expecting Ithaca to make you rich.
Ithaca gave you the marvelous journey.
Without her you would have not set out.
She has nothing left to give you now.
And if you find her poor, Ithaca won’t have fooled you.
Wise as you will have become, so full of experience,
you’ll have understood by then what these Ithacas mean.
Constantine P. Cavafy
“But, Nora told me, do not forget that the day that ends at nightfall is given back to you on the morrow. You get it back. And you keep getting it back, so it is up to you to decide what you will do with it.”