"Women, I believe, search for fellow beings who have faced similar struggles, conveyed them in ways a reader can transform into her own life, confirmed desires the reader had hardly acknowledged - desires that now seem possible. Women catch courage from the women whose lives and writings they read and women call the bearer of that courage friend."
~ Carolyn Heilbrun
The Last Gift of Time:Life Beyond Sixty
I have been fortunate to acquire a few such friends along the way, often by accident - Anne Morrow Lindbergh, Tristine Rainer, Judith Cameron, Natalie Goldberg. Heilbrun is the most recent; somehow I missed her until recently when The Last Gift of Time was lent to me by a friend to whom I'd shared my interest in reading about aging. This book, she said, was a must to read, a classic, a favorite of hers and of her mother before her. I wasn't 20 pages into the book when I knew I wanted my own copy.
Although I am close in age to the age at which Heilbrun wrote the book, I did not identify easily with her at the outset, the particulars of our lives being quite different. Heilbrun was a distinguished author and critic, a professor at Colombia for over 30 years, a single child of upper class Jewish parents, a mother and grandmother, well-traveled, well-known. And I - the eldest daughter of working class Sicilian-Americans, a Mid-westerner at heart, educator, small business owner, no children - in so many ways, an ordinary woman.
As the book unfolded, however, as Heilbrun shared her insights and opinions about men, marriage, memory, time, mortality, I felt I'd come across a kindred spirit. When she described her despair over the state of our society, I became her hallelujah choir. When she declared a woman could be a feminist without hating men, I knew I'd found another friend (Heilbrun calls such a friend "unmet"). And when she asserted that to remain vital beyond sixty, one needs to pursue an undertaking that "requires strong effort and the evidence of growing proficiency", I knew this to be another one of those right books at the right time that I cherish.
What sealed my conviction that I'd found another friend was the sense of recognition when I discovered that Heilbrun had written a mystery series under the pseudonym of Amanda Cross, a series I had devoured years ago. And the sense of loss and sadness when I learned that Heilbrun had committed suicide only seven years after the publication of The Last Gift of Time.
I recognize that some younger readers may find this book to be dated; after all, it was written over 20 years ago. But I hope they will explore it anyway, if only to appreciate the challenges and contributions of feminists of Heilbrun's era. And to get a taste of her writing style. Crisp, clear, intelligent, uncompromising, with an irreverence I found particularly appealing.
My copy arrived in the mail yesterday. I intend to reread it soon, to take more time to savor the writing, to reflect more carefully, to appreciate that I came upon this gift, now that I am beyond sixty.