Its time to seize the moment

 

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Category: Women Date: 12 Jun 97


‘What's important is that passion has re-entered their lives. They are in charge because they trust their own voices. They are opening doors and walking down passages they would have never dared to before. They seem to be following Jung's advice to us.’

 

It was the late hour when one dully flicks at channels - too inert to read, too alert to go to bed. Then a truck flashed on the screen. A woman stood on a verandah watching it approach. The “Bridges of Madison County” starring Clint Eastwood and Meryl Streep had just begun. Absurdly happy now, I settled down at the prospect of this unexpected treat. I remembered reading the book and being immeasurably moved - deliberating (a common trick for insomniacs - pick a topic and think yourself to sleep) over how Francescea, a farmer’s wife with grown-up kids living in a red-neck part of Iowa (while her husband and children are away) is drawn to a tall, lean, loner, nomad who "makes pictures" for the National Geographic magazine. Their probing, halting, almost innocent courtship explodes into a powerful four-day love affair (the memory of which would be the most tangible thing in their lives and in their deaths).

 

Sensing her disillusionment and unhappiness over the fact that life in Iowa was not what she'd dreamed of as a young girl in Italy (where she met her American paratrooper husband), Robert Kincaid stokes this housewife's latent dreams and desires (picking them out from her life of making stodgy breakfasts, and staying “respectable” in a town of narrow-minded limited people). He jogs her memory of her former self. "The old dreams were good dreams. They didn't work out but I'm still glad I had them;" reminds her of her innate sensuality, her capacity to laugh, admires her nuances, alert to her subtleties, evokes (to her immense joy) burnt-rusted African sunsets and vast spaces.

 

She packs her bags to leave with him but doesn't. She tells him that she would rather keep the memory of those four days than go with him and be unhappy over leaving her children and "clean and honest" husband behind. The first time I saw the film on the big screen I missed the point. I thought she had done the right thing. There was no guarantee that their love would outlive her guilt. But only as his van finally moves off after waiting for her at the green traffic light does she realise the truth of his final words to her: "This kind of certainty comes but once in a lifetime." She stayed for the grown-up selfish children, the decent but limited husband, the small town people who remained blind to her.

 

The story is not about adultery, but is a commentary on life itself. About the choices people face and make. About the waste of those who haven't had the courage to follow their own voice, and, playing it safe, trudge through life at the expense of their soul. Erica Jong, in her autobiography, Fear of Fifty, sounds a similar warning. She is a poet and writer who speaks with a voice that is undeniably her own - truthful, raucous, blunt and lyrical. In the preface to Fear of Fifty, Jong writes:

 "At 19, at 29, at 39, even - help me - at 49, I believed that a new man, a new love, a move, a change to another city, another country, would somehow change my inner life. Not so now. I know that another mad, passionate love affair would be only a temporary distraction. I know that my soul is what I have to nurture and develop, and that alone, or with a partner, the problems of climbing your own mountain are not so very different."

 Francescea’s affair was the catalyst and was incidental to her awakening, coming into her own, even though she lacked the courage to follow it through.

 

I felt a little embarrassed some months back to be watching Oprah one evening. (You'd think reading this I did nothing but watch TV.) But all the fuss and seeing Oprah’s ego, delectable asparagus, silver and cooks on display was worthwhile because Oprah was having dinner with the writer Tony Morrison, and three or four women who loved her work.  (I watched and waited through the many commercials because Morrison’s book, Beloved, was so raw, so exquisite, that I raced through it practically holding my breath and couldn't bear to look at it again until some time had passed.) Amidst the flash of knives and forks and the clank of china, the waving roses and the pouring of the wines, Tony Morrison reveals that some reader or publisher claimed that her characters were "larger than life." To which she replies passionately, "But life is large. Some of us just choose to make it small."

 

There must be something of Tony Morrison's belief in many of my women friends (all sliding into their 30s) who are making drastic changes in their lives - buying homes, switching jobs, changing partners, leaving the old husk behind. What's important is that passion has re-entered their lives. They are in charge because they trust their own voices. They are opening doors and walking down passages they would have never dared to before. They seem to be following Jung's advice to us.

"We have to grow up, whether we want to or not. We have to stop blaming men and mothers and seize every second of our lives with passion. We can no longer afford to waste our creativity. We cannot afford spiritual laziness."

 

To be larger than life is one message. To seize the moment, to explore fully, to take chances, is the theme offered by one who surely must be one of the greatest poets of all time. Consider TS Eliot's poem, “Burnt Norton”:

“What might have been and what has been  Point to one end, which is always present.

Footfalls echo in the memory Down the passage which we did not take Towards the door we never opened."

 

While thinking about this I drove past a boy selling red roses and yellow carnations. I screeched to a stop and reversed at peril to myself and other drivers. Bought a red rose attached to Baby's breath. Thought who shall I give it to and decided I would have it for myself. Cut the stem and arranged it in a hand-carved earthen vase (and here it stands unfolding, deep crimson colouring the study as I write.) While removing the wrapper suffered with guilt thinking I should have given it to my husband/mother/father/grandmother. But I think we all need a little self-love at times, and have resolved that this vase will never be empty even if the flowers in it are wild. I recommend everyone to try it.

 

There will be time enough for sorrow and sacrifice, for disconsolate moments and sleepless nights. But there must be no time for regrets, for lost moments, for the words we never spoke, the joy we bypassed. Living intensely may lead to deeper sorrows, but there will also be unimaginable highs and no waste.

Here's Eliot again:  "Quick now, here, now, always   Ridiculous the waste sad time  Stretching before and after."

 

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All Articles Copyright Ira Mathur