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|Publisher:||Norton, W. W. & Company, Inc.|
|Product dimensions:||5.50(w) x 8.30(h) x 0.90(d)|
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A Journal of the Seventy-Ninth Year
By May Sarton
OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIACopyright © 1992 May Sarton
All rights reserved.
Thursday, May 3, 1990
My seventy-eighth birthday. It's hard to believe I am still around to be glad the sun is out at last and the daffodils crowding the wood's edge with abundant grace, all things moving toward opening and flowering after the imprisoning winter we have somehow survived. To write these few stumbling words is an event for me, as the months of illness caused by my fibrillating heart have meant putting a stop to any writing at all. Even a postcard has become a Herculean effort, which I think about in bed around five when Pierrot, the gorgeous Himalayan, decides it is time to go out. I let him out and go back to inventing a wonderful postcard, which rarely gets written, because by the time I have put out the bird feeder, watered the plant window, made my breakfast and washed up after it, made my bed, and dressed, my little store of energy has vanished.
Is that the truth or is the truth that the side effects of the medicines prescribed for my heart blur my mind in some way? I never feel fully awake, alive to the tremor of wind, except at night when the ecstatic peeping of the frogs prevents sleep but is so welcome, so thrilling after the silent winter, that I am glad to listen for hours.
I always imagined I would begin a last journal on this birthday, but when I tried as an experiment after Christmas and again near Easter, it was clear that the curious connection between what goes on in the head and its expression in words was simply not working. This is scary even when CAT scans show no brain damage and I am assured by the doctors that all is well. "Only," says wonderful Dr. Petrovich, "your heart is very, very tired and has also lost strength in the past year." So I am to settle, or so it seems, for a semilife, or the life of a semi-invalid. This has been the struggle of the last months, to learn to accept that my life as a writer is probably over and to learn to accept dependence.
Friday, May 4
Another blue sky, another real spring day. We are right to tremble, as it will rain again tonight and all day tomorrow when the friends I think of as family, Anne Woodson and Barbara Barton, come for champagne and lobster rolls — a feast reduced to the minimum, as all things must be these days.
But as I write this I smile, for my birthday yesterday could hardly have been called austere or in any way diminished, trucks driving up every hour or so with extraordinary gifts of plants and flowers — one of these, two towering stems of white orchids, making together an orchid tree, which I lie under like an East Indian princess — these from dear extravagant Susan Sherman. Maggie Vaughan came bringing a delicious lunch of shrimp, salad, and her special strawberry sherbet with marinated strawberries and homemade cake, so I could lie on my chaise and answer phone calls and drink a whiskey sour. And among the more than six hundred cards and letters that had accumulated since last week I found that Polly Starr had copied out the following passage from Teilhard de Chardin, which hit me like an arrow to the heart, so exact is it for my present state:
This hostile force that lays him low and disintegrates him can become for him a loving principle of renewal, if he accepts it with faith, while never ceasing to struggle against it. On the experimental plane, everything is lost. But in the realm of the supernatural, as it is called, there is a further dimension, ... which achieves a mysterious reversal of evil into good. Leaving the zone of human successes and failures behind him, ... he accedes by an effort of trust in the greater than himself to the region of suprasensible transformations and growth. His resignation is no more than the thrust which lifts the field of his activity higher.
... There is a time for growth and a time for diminishment in the lives of each one of us. At one moment the dominant note is one of constructive human effort, and at another ... annihilation. ...
All these attitudes spring from the same inner orientation of the mind, from a single law which combines the twofold movement of the natural personalization of man and his supernatural depersonalization. ... — The Divine Milieu
I have had The Divine Milieu by my desk (in a revolving bookcase with other treasures) but have not opened it to reread for years, so Polly's copying it came like a present — key to a door that has been closed for months. It is enough to copy it out myself for the day and to affirm what Sheri, the visiting nurse, who came to give me a sponge bath today, told me: "You're getting better and I can tell because you smile, and you didn't when I first came."
Yesterday I forgot to say that when I drove down to get the mail I saw the marsh marigolds are in flower — that bright gold startles the eyes. It was one of my best presents for the day.
Monday, May 7
Pretty depressing to find it raining again early this morning when I let Pierrot in — he had insisted on going out at five. We have had a mournful spring of rain, day after day, rain and wind, good for the garden but hard on people who long to be able to be outdoors. Sometimes I wonder why I have chosen to live in Maine, then something happens that lets me know why.
But the day itself, May 3, was peaceful.
When one florist had delivered three or four times I was a little embarrassed and explained to the middle-aged woman who brought the final arrangement late in the afternoon, "It's my seventy-eighth birthday, you know." Her answer: "Your friends don't let you forget it, do they?" This pure Maine remark filled me with joy, and I know why I live in Maine. That tart sense of humor is good medicine.
Wednesday, May 9
Every fall I put in twenty or more tiny fritillary bulbs. Only one or two ever flower, because it is difficult to find the right root end, which may show a few tiny hairs or may not. This year three or four have flowered, and they are magic. I have two in a tiny blue jug which belonged to Pat Chasse's grandmother; she has added this treasure from her family to the weekly supply of custard she makes for me. Since my birthday the house is full of small presents like this, and they are heart medicine.
It is the sixth month now of being so debilitated that I cannot work. Writing a single letter becomes a huge effort. I am sure it is partly the effect of the heart medicine, which makes me as drowsy as a bumblebee. But I must be a little better, since I have written these few sentences. I could not have done it a month ago.
My desire for fritillaries goes back to before World War II in England when I saw them for the first time and was enchanted. They were at Dorothy Wellesley's house, Penns-in-the-Rocks, near Tunbridge Wells. As the car swung across an ancient low stone bridge I saw that the meadow on each side of us was pricked by hundreds of these small precise bells, each with checkered petals nodding on a single stem.
That was the start of a strange, illuminating weekend.
Friday, May 11
Today, after wild wind and rain all night, is a real blue-and-gold May day, the ocean rough, a deep molten blue in the distance, and the field so garlanded in daffodils that anyone walking here and coming on the scene by accident would have her breath taken away. "Imagine living here, living with this glory."
I have been wanting to write about the wonderful Friday morning last week when my efforts to accept dependency bore fruit. It happened in a few hours that laid to rest anxieties that had been keeping me awake and gave me a deep breath of peace. My neighbor Karen Kozlowski cleared out the liquor cupboard, a closet in the porch room where I sit and watch the birds and read in a chaise longue. It had accumulated years of stuff, "a glory hole," my mother would have called it. Amongst other things there were shelves of vases that had to be sorted out and many discarded.
Months ago, Karen K. called out of the blue to ask whether I needed any help, for she was free and could drive me to do shopping or whatever I needed. A few months ago I would have thanked her and told her I did not need help. But when she called I was feeling very ill. The weekends, when Nancy Hartley, my secretary, is not here, are the hardest days, of course, and also I am finding it difficult to eat anything, so I asked Karen whether she could make me some Jell-O. And lo and behold, trays of lemon and orange Jell-O began to appear. And now, lo and behold, the glory hole was being tidied up and cleaned out. Great day!
Meanwhile Nancy was out on the terrace planting the lobelia which we had bought two weeks ago to edge the little border inside the terrace wall. Birthday money had given me a big flat of bright blue violas, and those too were put in. Six miniature roses, a present from Edythe Haddaway, were still to be planted — and that Nancy achieved today. I had been so anxious that the lobelias might not survive that it was bliss to see them all along the border, perky and close to flowering.
The third wonder of that day was Diane Yorke, who gardens for me, but we have had so much rain that she has not been able to do a lot of things that need doing. On that good Friday, she was out there raking leaves from the flower beds, edging, and in general tidying up. It was such a cruel winter that I have lost a lot of plants, but at least what is left looks cherished.
So there I was on Friday morning accepting my new dependency and watching without a qualm while three women worked wonders in my behalf. I lay there and enjoyed! So in six months I have made a start at learning the lesson. The joke was finally on me, for Nancy, Karen, and Diane had worked here for half a day and seemed as fresh as daisies and I, who had simply sat and watched and given advice, was so exhausted I went to bed at seven!
Sunday, May 13
The dreariest Mother's Day imaginable, a steady heavy rain. I did not want to get up. Pierrot went out just after four and came in at six, soaking wet from nose to tail, and then, of all things, had his breakfast and asked to go out again. I went back to bed, but got up again in half an hour, and sure enough, there he was waiting at the front door and meowing mournfully.
The battle is on every day against extreme fatigue and lassitude. It took me four days to be able finally to write about the day. All the work got done, but the journal is a relentless pressure and I have not got into a viable routine that includes it. Dr. Gilroy sparkled when I told him I was keeping one and said, "That's what will cure you ... I am certain of it." Many other friends say the same thing, but they cannot know the effort it takes to write even a line. I may try a microrecorder if I ever have the energy to go to Portsmouth and get one. It is months since I have been to town, although yesterday I bought some sneakers here in York, quite an event.
Yesterday was a true spring day, blue ocean, emerald grass, and all ... and I picked a small bunch of white violets. Suddenly they are back and carpet every free space in the borders, especially along the fence. The garden is full of riches, such as the lily of the valley, for one, but there are also losses because of our frightfully cold December. The white bleeding heart has survived in several places, and also the blue hydrangea from Winterthur that Huldah Sharp gave me for my birthday last year. They will remind me if they do well of our trip to the island of Sark together. I had explored it alone two years before, and my hunch that Huldah would love it was not wrong. We had Beatrix Potter days there, picnics among bluebells and primroses on meadows so high up on the cliffs we looked down on gulls flying far below.
Monday, May 14
There is such a continual interleaving of joys these days it is easy to forget one or the other of them, take it for granted, and let it go unregistered. Right now two wood pigeons are cooing compulsively, and a high wind rumples the ocean. What would it be like here without the birds? A suffocating silence.
But also the constant weaving in and out of wings at the feeder keeps the air alive. There are sometimes twenty dazzling goldfinches at a time coming and going to the feeder from the ornamental cherries which provide such good, safe perches. There are purple finches, nuthatches (both white, small, and rosebreasted), woodpeckers (hairy and downy), titmice, redwing blackbirds, grackles, pine siskins.
In these months when I have almost never felt well, going down early in the morning to put out the bird feeder is one thing that has kept me alive, been a reason for getting up.
The worst part of the struggle has been that sometimes there seems to be no reason for getting up. But now that I do write a little in the journal, I have, as it were, put on my work clothes again, am a functioning person for a change. It is forcing a change in me toward life. High time.
Thursday, May 17
On Monday I had a fit of feeling better. Nancy was not here, and I woke up and decided to do the laundry that had piled up, get the job done before having breakfast or making my bed, only do the necessary chores, putting out the bird feeder and letting Pierrot in and feeding him. He had woken me at quarter to four to go out. "Once more into the breach, dear friends," but I should have paid attention to objections making themselves felt inside my chest and abdomen. After the wash was done and the sheets dried and folded and I got myself in gear to make my bed, I felt suddenly so weak it was as though I had no blood in my body. I could hardly make it to my bedroom down the hall and creep into bed, scared and furious. There I stayed for two hours and slept. After that, nothing whatever of any use got done that day.
Since then I have felt exceptionally tottery and depressed. Partly, the weather is odious. It is now raining very hard and will do so all night. Again the daffodils will be beaten down.
Dr. Petrovich, whom I saw Monday afternoon, thinks my heart is doing well. I do breathe more easily and do not have to pause quite as long halfway up the stairs. But I feel so ill and frail all the time it is not a real life anymore.
When I began this journal, which so many friends had begged me to do, which everyone imagined could be useful and not only help me through the dark but perhaps help its readers also, I thought maybe I could manage not to talk about ill health much or even at all. But how not to talk about something which frustrates every hopeful impulse toward some kind of life? I am lonely, but people tire me after even a short visit. Any physical effort such as watering the plants in the plant window ends in exhaustion. And this miserable journal is keeping me from writing the one letter a day I was able to manage. Pat Carroll's birthday is May 5.
Monday, May 21
I did manage to write Pat, who is going to play Falstaff at the Folger and whose life and art are bursting at the seams with that sovereign laughter reaching the rafters wherever she may be. But I realized that she is a good deal younger than I am, so I must not allow myself to quiver with dismay that she is achieving so much this year while I consider it a triumph to write a single paragraph or a letter a day.
It has been a wasted week. The weather is demoralizing, and too often when I have planned to get something done at my desk, I have had instead to curl up with diverticulitis, as I did yesterday from two in the morning till noon. I still have not managed to write Bea Hunter about Lotte Jacobi, who died more than a week ago. I have not written, but I have thought about Lotte a lot. She took the best photographs of me — they are on many of my book jackets. She was also a life-enhancing friend. A visit to see her in Deering was an event. She not only listened with absolute attention, she heard and understood, and out of that genius for getting inside a problem, always brought lifesaving wisdom and laughter to bear. When I was feeling old in my sixties she teased me unmercifully. She grew old in the way of a fairy godmother, more charming and irresistible with every year — until the very end, when for a few years she was not quite herself, though still a creature of joy and lightning response, a mischievous smile, a sense of herself as having much to give. This seems to me quite unusual and touching, for she was a great giver to the end and she did not deny that to herself. And the people who had come to her for years for wisdom and a taste of that rich life still came when the life had become a little askew, because, not quite all there, she was more there than most people ever are.
Excerpted from Endgame by May Sarton. Copyright © 1992 May Sarton. Excerpted by permission of OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIA.
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