30 August 2007

Old folks

I am reading the autobiography of feminist writer bell hooks, Bone Black, Memories of Girlhood. It's a poetic book, consisting of fragments, scenes, in which images of a poor, black Southern community is conjured up. All in all, the storytelling is haunting. She writes about poverty and racism. About what it is like to feel different, fighting with expectations about womanhood and "being black". All this she does in a very unpretentious, down-to-earth way.

Her friendships with older people is a recurring theme in the book. She describes how she could be herself in their presence, but at the same time she felt that her older friends were different from the grown-ups, stuck in the midst of the buzz of life. The pretense and tensions of the world of the grown-up is described as being absent in her relationships with elderly people. She even says that for her grandfather, being old means that one finally can stop pretending, stop "making an effort to be somebody". It's not that her friends have settled down for a quiet ending. What she depicts is instead a sense of joy and curiosity, time to be with her.

I have no difficulties understanding her. My relationship with both of my grandmothers were like that, in a way. Different as they were in temperament, both were persons with whom I felt at ease, reassured that they would never grow tired of talking, playing, having me around. And if they suddenly tired of my endless questioning, they would put an end to it in a firm, but friendly, way.

I don't think hooks has a thesis about life as consisting of a period, 'adulthood', necessarily constituted by pretense and social bullshit. Instead, she talks about how her old friends were given quite a lot of freedom, in both a positive and a negative way. People let them lead their lives pretty much as they wanted, but, sadly, that was because they were considered too old to change, "eccentric old folks". Old age were, for them, at least to some extent, a relief from social pressure (but as I said there are some ambiguities here).

It is quite easy to recognize this quite mixed attitude towards old people. But this nonwithstanding, I guess what is tough in becoming old is adjusting to a life where one often is very dependent on other people. On the other hand: we experience helping and receiving help in many different ways, as help can be given and received in different spirits.

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