Age is anomalous. When are we young? When old? Why privilege public records on that, or declarations of authorities?
When I was an undergrad (so I tell the story now) I dreamed of the happy hours when we’d gather, maybe with a hip faculty member, and read Kerouac or Nietzsche or Zen Koans in a transport of camaraderie and philosophy. Then came the grinds of grad school and then of teaching and publishing-on-demand, and the fun and work (but hardly purely intellectual tasks and devotions) of family. And you know, right now I’m more or less emeritus, and younger than I was then. I can gather in a transport of camaraderie and philosophy by the sleek rush of rivers, or at a quiet desk.
Nietzsche’s child laughs by the waves only in age. I go back to dreams and feel them grow real. Thoreau says we are children of the mists — as we approach that vaulting Knowledge he calls “Sympathy with Intelligence” — children moving in fearless love of things intelligible and unintelligible, the intelligible world full of Intelligence. No matter his calendar age. Even as he died he was alert and sparkled with wonder and could see more than one thing at once, even as the manifold things were all of a world right now — no need of a world to come.
He would look with John at a still pool at the edge of the Merrimack and see reflected sky on the surface, and see the terrain of the still muddy bottom, and see the gossamer surface that held cloud and tree and was simultaneously transparent to bottom. As he put it, the eye could have more than one intention. One could see the heavens and the bottoms at once, both in motion, alive.
At more or less emeritus I can be younger than young, see more than calendar or biological age, feel unimpeded time slow, slow down – can stop for electronic chat, or travel to gatherings that institutions call ‘conferences,’ worry less about appearances, rules, what lies ahead. Be the kid just home from school, who sits down with pals, talks, hangs out with the dog, startles at the dart of the hummingbird, or the shattering fall of an old riverbank pine on a windless afternoon. And all the while play adjacent to the reservoir of reading and writing that has slowly filled catch-buckets beside us, and now offers its easy disposal, as we wish.
So when I was young and easy under the apple boughs,
time held me green, undying . . .
and I sang from my sails like the sea . . .
[apologies to Dylan Thomas, ‘Fern Hill’]