So, continuing to think about ageing and the last section of life, I wanted to tell you about something I think of as "going further up the mountain".
I have always preferred to live quietly, but in the last few years this has developed an imperative quality. I have come to prioritise peace. Nowadays, when trouble comes looking for me, I just up sticks and move further up the mountain.
It's meant, with sadness, severing some longstanding close relationships that were a source of significant and consistent stress. It's meant withdrawing from professional opportunities. I've closed my Facebook account and stopped watching the news. I only just manage to hang on to going to church — and I do still go because my church community has in it the gentlest, dearest people on God's earth.
Where once I'd have done battle, or struggled on, or put up with adversity, now I choose peace. Quietness. Calm.
I apply the maxim, "If in doubt, simplify," whenever I come to a crossroads or a dilemma.
Life as I now shape it is characterised by peace more than any other thing. I treasure silence and solitude, the calm space yielded by owning few possessions (I've still got too many, I can feel it), the simplicity of ordinary daily routine.
I avoid arguments, crowds, social gatherings, traffic, interviews, complication and busyness. I go to bed early and I get up early.
"Avoid loud and aggressive persons," said Max Ehrmann; "they are vexatious to the spirit." I take his advice. I go further up the mountain.
This hunger for quietness and peace that simply cannot be ignored, I have noticed many friends who read here share in common. I have found the need for peace has increased steeply and assertively as I've grown older.
My father lived to be eighty-three, and in the last decade of his life he withdrew more and more from the world. He remained married to my mother, but stopped living with her and moved into little country cottage on his own. He occasionally took holidays in remote Norwegian fishing cabins. He had a dog whom he loved and took for long walks, and he fed the birds. He ate cheese and biscuits and fruit cake, and drank red wine or Earl Grey tea. Every day he drove (he loved his car and kept it in tip-top order) to the supermarket café where he could purchase a cheap hot meal for which someone else cooked and washed up. He enjoyed chatting to the café staff, but avoided any prolonged contact with people in general. He used to go indoors and hide if he was out in the garden and his neighbours came out.
He refused to co-operate with anything required of him. He parked on double-yellow lines (that's curbside strictly no-parking indication in the UK) outside the bank when he went to get his money out, and preferred to pay the occasional £60.00 fine incurred than do what he was told and didn't want to. He wouldn't separate his rubbish into black bin, cardboard and plastic, and in the end the council gave up pressurising him to do so, because he wouldn't.
He cut his own hair and fixed his own teeth as far as he could — when one of them fell out, he super-glued it back in. If he ever got ill he ignored it until it became a serious and acute emergency, then had the necessary surgery done and went home.
His house was always neat and tidy, almost impersonal, furnished with the greatest frugality — the things he had been given by his family — his armchair and electric fire, his telly and electric kettle, his rug — plus a few basic items like a bed, a table, a sofa, a desk.
He took an interest in current affairs, enjoyed moving his savings into different currencies in pursuit of higher interest, and he liked watching Countryfile on the telly. Politically he was staunchly Conservative, because his vote was for the kind of government he believed would leave him in peace to solve his own problems and live how he wanted to.
Quiet, solitary, and gentle, in the last few years he came to one or two family events — the eightieth birthday party we gave him, the funeral of my previous husband, my wedding to the man I'm married to now.
He died suddenly, quietly, alone. His aorta broke, and he just stopped living. When I found him the next morning, he was neatly dressed in his pyjamas and dressing gown, lying where he had fallen onto his bed, his featured settled in their habitual primary expression, which was one of kindness.
He was a wanderer-off his whole life, travelling the world and rarely at home. Retirement in the close company of his wife and associates was too heavy a burden for him; so he just went higher up the mountain.
He was seventy-nine here.
I do believe this instinctive questing for peace and solitude is a typical feature of ageing. A hunger for simplicity.
People often make a to-do about loneliness in the elderly; but though undoubtedly some of them are lonely, they often don't seek to do anything about it. They don't want to share a house together, for example. They just want to be left in peace, living in solitude on the brink of loneliness, but prevented from falling over the edge by the administration of chatty visits that ask nothing and aren't too long. It is a form of simplification, a withdrawal from the heaviness of involvement and complication. Moving higher up the mountain.