Extra innings
February 17, 2014 8:34 AM   Subscribe

"Why am I not constantly grieving?" The wonderful Roger Angell on love, loss, sex, death, time, and the view from age 94.
posted by Miko (31 comments total) 70 users marked this as a favorite

Thank you for that post. What a wonderful, deeply kind fellow. And what a precious gift he's giving with this letter (I was reading it like a letter to us younger folks). I wish to be so clear headed and composed if I get to live that long. And I hope I'm spared the worst of what has happened to him.
posted by hat_eater at 9:16 AM on February 17, 2014 [4 favorites]

Getting old is the second-biggest surprise of my life, but the first, by a mile, is our unceasing need for deep attachment and intimate love.

This is worth remembering.
posted by stupidsexyFlanders at 9:24 AM on February 17, 2014 [11 favorites]

Glad you posted this. I read it in the print edition yesterday and have been thinking about it ever since. In the past year I've struck up a correspondence with a poet and translator who contributed to one of the books I worked on in 2013. He's in his 80s and recently had to move to a nursing home, so in his letters he's pondering some of the same questions Angell ponders here.

In some ways it's the first time I have been part of such a conversation about aging and mortality; it's not the kind of thing I had any capacity to discuss in any substantive way with my grandparents before they died (to my regret), so I am grateful to have the opportunity to do it now, though I find myself fumbling to know what to say quite a bit of the time. This article has helped me think about my next letter to my friend. I'm going to share it with him, and will be interested in his thoughts.
posted by scody at 9:31 AM on February 17, 2014 [5 favorites]

i concur with scody in that this essay has stuck to my heart like peanut butter on carpet. what a treasure it is to receive correspondence with such depth and sensitivity from someone like Angell who has hurtled around the sun more than ninety times.
posted by oog at 9:44 AM on February 17, 2014 [1 favorite]

Dear Roger Angell:
May I stay here on your lawn please?
posted by chavenet at 9:51 AM on February 17, 2014 [9 favorites]

I have loved Roger Angell's writing for a long time. I also read this.

My first take away was how lucky he is to have had all those procedures, and whether or not the "average" old person would have access to that level of care these days. I do not begrudge him any of it, though,

Also, since I am 63 now, I am starting to feel like I am in the last third of my life. . .
posted by Danf at 9:53 AM on February 17, 2014 [2 favorites]

Lovely article, and so engagingly written. Thanks for posting.
posted by greenish at 9:59 AM on February 17, 2014

At age 72 I have a growing appreciation for his thoughts and sentiment. I have never been happier, more content and (this I can not completely understand) more sanguine about the future. I have been very lucky, perhaps blessed, with opportunities, very fulfilling relationships and a moderately obsessive commitment to running, jogging, now swimming (slipped and damaged blood supply to my hip) and moderation. There are some moments when I think I earned what I have but more sober reflection comes up 70% luck, 20% hard work and 10% good decisions. For me this most difficult thing is eagerly waiting the future (technology, grandchildren, scientific innovation the next trip) but realizing I maybe be looking just a bit far into the future. Enough of the reflection--will be leaving soon to take my wife and her best friend to the airport for a 4 week stay in the Bahamas. I will be getting an orthopedic consult, reading another Scandinavian mystery and having my daily morning swim and then coffee with friends from 9:30 to 11:00 AM
posted by rmhsinc at 10:01 AM on February 17, 2014 [19 favorites]

I always say Roger Angell is one of those writers (like John McPhee, like Calvin Trillin, like E. B. White) whose prose is so incredibly good to read I don't care what they're writing about. I barely understand baseball but I've read all Angell's reporting on it over the years, letting the statistics and historical events wash over me in favor of his vivid decsriptive powers and convivial voice. In this case it's very personal and meaningful; I feel like he is dropping some serious wisdom. I also admire the way that, though nearly a century old, he's aware of and comfortable in contemporary culture. He may have his own tastes and not track everything, but he's not someone who's checked out of the stream of life. He's blogging, seeing films, reading, staying current. Though pop culture means a lot less to me than it used to, I do hope I will not step out of the stream either and maroon myself on a bank of alienation from the world as it evolves.
posted by Miko at 10:04 AM on February 17, 2014 [16 favorites]

It was Leon Trotsky who said the big surprise was for a man to discover he was old. Here we learn it is the second thing once discovers...no matter. Nice article (I had read it) and what strikes me is how we both (I am 84) note the mounds of the dead, those we knew, loved, had in our lives. Whenever a young person asks me--sometimes they do talk to me--why the old are so morose, sad, i tell them: "perhaps they know things you do not but will later find out.."
posted by Postroad at 10:39 AM on February 17, 2014 [23 favorites]

Beautiful and deeply moving.
posted by PercussivePaul at 10:47 AM on February 17, 2014 [1 favorite]

Stephen Spender told our poetry class in college that getting old is like driving the same car for a very long time. You, the driver, seem to be the same, but the thing just starts falling apart around you.
posted by thelonius at 11:18 AM on February 17, 2014 [15 favorites]

Postroad, I am scarcely half your age -- but lately I have been noting those mounds, too. :7(

I have been noticing how small they are yet, and thinking on how short the time is before my loved ones and acquaintances and strangers all end up there. I guess the key is to enjoy the days left instead of worrying about what I will miss after them.

(I got to the end of of the first page and thought it was a pretty good essay, then I saw "Page 1 of 6" and boggled a little at my good fortune: yay, more Roger Angell!)
posted by wenestvedt at 11:29 AM on February 17, 2014 [2 favorites]

Because of this excellent piece I looked up 'Poem' by Elizabeth Bishops. Maybe it's just particularly touching in conjunction with this article, but it moved me. Here's the link, absolutely worth a read.
posted by Solon and Thanks at 12:13 PM on February 17, 2014 [7 favorites]

On the other hand, I’ve not yet forgotten Keats...
Woo Hoo!

or Dick Cheney

or what’s waiting for me at the dry cleaner’s today.

...er, um.

So much of life is bittersweet in that Zen way. It's so wonderful to have people you care deeply about and you still have your mind so you're not stuck in a care facility and you're not in too much pain on a nice day, buuut you still have to go pick up your dry cleaning.

posted by Smedleyman at 3:29 PM on February 17, 2014 [1 favorite]

Nothing is easy at this age, and first meetings for old lovers can be a high-risk venture. Reticence and awkwardness slip into the room.

Also happiness.

Word, Roger.
posted by Danf at 4:12 PM on February 17, 2014 [1 favorite]

Thanks for posting this.

I think it can be hard to fully appreciate a sharing of experience until you're living the experience yourself. For youthful stuff, it's a great revelation and treat to discuss it with older people who've been through it before. But by the time we reach old age, all the people we would most like to talk with about what it's like -- our parents, our mentors, the people we looked up to in youth -- are gone. So I always feel like essays about old age from the inside have extra importance; by the time we get there, the essays are what's left that allows us to "discuss" it with those who have gone before.
posted by LobsterMitten at 4:58 PM on February 17, 2014 [8 favorites]

Came across the article independently and thought, wow, Metafilter would love this. Yes, they do. Me too. Reading it made me want to weep while smiling for the beauty of his words, his wisdom, of his experience that life is not without its aches, pains and losses but is still worth living. It also makes me want to search out more of his writing, which seems like a very great gift.
posted by Athanassiel at 5:47 PM on February 17, 2014 [1 favorite]

This is gorgeous. I'd been avoiding it, afraid of what it might say, but it's beautiful and I'm very glad I read it.
posted by PussKillian at 6:18 PM on February 17, 2014 [1 favorite]

I have just reached the age, where I need those who are still ahead of me on the road, to turn and encourage me to endure the comings and goings and re-commit to my own journey.
Thanks for this article. I too was afraid to open it. I and Pandora need to separate at least for a while.
posted by Oyéah at 6:45 PM on February 17, 2014

I knew of Roger Angell from his baseball writing, so I was expecting this to be wonderful. And it was.
posted by tallmiddleagedgeek at 7:20 PM on February 17, 2014 [1 favorite]

"I don’t read Scripture and cling to no life precepts, except perhaps to Walter Cronkite’s rules for old men, which he did not deliver over the air: Never trust a fart. Never pass up a drink. Never ignore an erection."

Words of wisdom indeed.
posted by homunculus at 8:33 PM on February 17, 2014

Thank you for posting this. I love Roger Angell.
posted by KokuRyu at 8:39 PM on February 17, 2014 [1 favorite]

"Roger Angell is one of those writers (like John McPhee, like Calvin Trillin, like E. B. White) whose prose is so incredibly good to read I don't care what they're writing about"

But for Miko, I might have missed this and that would have been a shame. I have reached an age that leaves me with very few older people in my life. This read like a visit with a friend who understands. It is a treasure.
posted by Anitanola at 8:56 PM on February 17, 2014 [1 favorite]

Well now I need to call my grandmother and bake the old widower next door a coffeecake.
posted by Grandysaur at 10:03 PM on February 17, 2014 [2 favorites]

If I read this correctly, he lost his daughter to suicide, his beloved dog to a preventable accident, and his wife, all within a 3 year period, in his very late 80's. It is so easy, after life and loss deal blow after blow to, as he says, "Say enough is enough" and turn away, to become numb. To live in dreams of the past, and try to avoid any more pain.

Yet he still writes this lovely piece. He still writes, he still cares, he has another dog, and speaks of the yearning to feel the comfort of another's warmth. His brave heart astonishes me. May his bravery help us all to try to be as brave as the years go by.
posted by kestralwing at 11:27 PM on February 17, 2014 [3 favorites]

the oceanic force and mystery of that event

Devastating words.
posted by rory at 6:45 AM on February 18, 2014

You're not grieving Roger, because you have outlived everyone who has ever given you grief. It's okay to do a little victory dance, just don't bust a hip.
posted by Renoroc at 7:10 AM on February 18, 2014

Beautiful piece. Thanks, I would have missed it.
He mentions an older Updike story which is also available in The New Yorker archive.
posted by readery at 1:49 PM on February 18, 2014

Huh, could access at work without a problem. But here is Roger Angell reading "Playing With Dynamite" aloud from The New Yorker Fiction Podcast
posted by readery at 7:43 PM on February 18, 2014

Just read this and, wow. I feel like I'm at the thin leading edge of aging right now. I'm turning fifty and while that's not old, it's old enough where you start hitting a few indicators of age and each year there's a few more. I have no intention of slowing down any time soon but I starting feel a little like I can envision being old.

I don't know if I could cope with losing my wife. That scares me more than almost anything. Almost as much as the fear of leaving her alone if I go first. Maybe we'll go at the same time when our house collapses under the weight of all of our books.
posted by octothorpe at 11:28 AM on February 20, 2014

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