Monday, 3 October 2016

Reflections after visiting the Island Cemetery of San Michele

In the past I had seen old people as members of a different race from mine. At times, in the form of my grandparents or an aged aunt, such aliens had spoken to me and I had communicated with them, like a benign man communicating generously with foreigners whilst on holiday never believing, in my complacency, that I could ever become one of them. It was only now that I was old myself that I understood that they were, in fact, of the same race as myself and that to view my speaking to them as a form of generosity was unjustified and condescending. What proved this to me was my knowledge that, being old myself in no way disqualified me from continuing to be a member of the race of youth to which I had always assumed myself, exclusively, to belong. The fact that I could link, in my one self, my current experience with memories that unequivocally belonged to the era of youth showed, at a stroke and without doubt, that there were not two separate races and but only one and that a mortal one. Mortality, in the guise of the white-haired old man, sitting across from me on the ferryboat, the sinews of whose neck stood out so and whose skin was leathery, now stalked every member of my race and myself also, something which the merest glance in a mirror would confirm to me. It became obvious to me, indeed, that there had never been a time when mortality, or perhaps I should more candidly call it Death, had not stalked each and every one of the race of youth and all of those members of it which I had known. Of course, in my youth, had you asked me whether this was so, not wanting to appear unworldly, I would have affirmed that it was. This affirmation, however, would have been meaningless and of little weight or substance. It was only now, seeing the unsought fellowship which my white hair gave me with this new old man, my contemporary, previously thought to be so alien to me, that I realized that the ability to deny the persistent presence of death in all human affairs had been conducted like a kind of sleight of hand or a deliberate glancing away at the crucial moment. It was only now that I truly understood that which I had so vainly and glibly claimed to understand when I was younger. For the short time that I continued to live I was living proof to myself, and, therefore, a proof only too intimate, that all youth dies. I had been reduced and humbled from the aristocracy of youth to the democracy of death.

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