You’ve seen it before – it was inevitable – aging baby boomers everywhere changing the title of A.A. Milne’s book to suit themselves, from Now We Are Six to Now We Are Sixty. For many of us, the gentle inhabitants of the 100 Acre Wood enriched our earliest years: Winnie the Pooh, Piglet, Tigger and Roo and the elusive Heffalump.
These days, when I think back to the books and poems my parents read to us over and over, I feel nostalgic for something more than the cozy ambiance of bedtime stories. There is something haunted about Christopher Robin, something sad about his solitude. He seems lonely sitting behind his green door, coming out periodically to assist and give advice to his imaginary friends. Nailing Eeyore’s tail back on. Rescuing Tigger and Roo from treetops. Helping Pooh get honey. A.A. Milne’s writing has a wry, wistful quality that rang true to me as a child, rang true and struck deep and brought the wood and its innocent creatures indelibly to life.
Perhaps these days I’m also affected by the story behind the stories, the picture in my mind of the small, shy boy that inspired Christopher Robin – the only son of a distant father, Milne himself – raised by a nanny who presented him formally to his parents three times a day. He grew up estranged from his father, even bitter toward the person who had, in his own words, “filched from me my good name and left me with nothing but the empty fame of being his son.”
I will turn sixty soon and I’m feeling as haunted as I imagine Christopher Robin to be. The first thing I’ve observed about turning sixty is the realization that by no stretch of the imagination may I ever again refer to myself as young. There is no more youth in me and although I don’t yet feel “invisible,” as so many older women do, I am plagued by bodily aches and pains that deprive me of the energy, spontaneity and stamina required for rich, full living.
I’ve been discussing with my friends how we should observe my milestone birthday. The jaunt to Paris is out, the week at Canyon Ranch, the cottage on the beach, even dinner at the Four Columns Inn, are all preposterous notions because neither I nor any of my friends can afford it. This was the second insight to create real sadness around my birthday – the fact that my life is nowhere near what I imagined it would be at this point and the horror of knowing, truly knowing, that there is little time left for catching up.
The other night Michelle asked: given the circumstances, what would you like your party to be? I said, “I want it to be meaningful, I want it to have substance. Maybe we can set aside a part of the evening to reflect on how far each of us has come and where we still might be going.”
The next day, on the same topic over lunch, I said to Mary, “I don’t want to wake up on the morning of my sixtieth birthday feeling like the world’s biggest loser. I want to spring up and say, Joy, joy! New chapter, new life, new me!”
Mary said, “Here’s an idea. Are you ready for crazy?”
“Crazy? Yeah. Sure.”
“We’ll probably be at Michelle’s, right? And she lives down by the river.”
When I was one I had just begun
When I was two I was nearly new
When I was three I was hardly me
When I was four I was not much more
When I was five I was just alive
But now I am six, I’m as clever as clever;
So I think I’ll be six now for ever and ever.
For me, this poem in particular summons that old yearning, homesick ache. I feel haunted by the fact that we won’t be anything for ever and ever, that life is brief, our youth is briefer, and that I could live to be ninety-nine and die still thinking that I had just begun or that I was just alive or hardly me.
That’s why it has to be a baptism, an immersion in the Spirit, a washing away of toxic matter and a commitment to brilliant life. When I was six I thought I’d live forever. Now that I am sixty, I know better and wish only to be initiated, purified and given a new name: Hope.
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