Jane Smiley on the Joy of 64
I am 17, on my first trip to England, for spring break. My hostess is kind and fun. When her plumber tells us that Michael Caine lives around the corner, she encourages me to go knock on his door. I can picture his youthful smile more vividly than the face of the taxi driver who dropped me at the train station tonight. I even recall what he said: that the person I am pretending to look for lives across the road, in the mews.
I am 8, following my cousin up onto the roof of our garage: The black shingles are gritty and hot, our Pepsis cold and I know my grandmother has no idea where we are. I'm 14, it is summer and I am sitting bareback on my mare in the silent woods, picking blackberries off the bushes and eating them while she grazes peacefully on the thick grass beneath us.
An older woman once told me that at 35, my life would change from a river to a lake, from a constant forward flow to a wider exploration. Perhaps she meant that I wouldn't be confronting new things in every moment, but instead would be returning again and again to what I thought I knew, understanding it more fully. Who are these children I gave birth to? How do you write a novel? What is love? Back then, I had no idea what she was talking about, but now I do. I dip my spoon into the latest batch of homemade vanilla ice cream and sense how it contains the triumphs and mistakes of previous batches. When my son comes home, I take bacon and eggs to him, and he nods awake slowly. Just as I'm recalling how frustrating it was to get him to the school bus on time, I see his grin when, at 2, he jumped off his toy chest, "flying" at me with arms outstretched, and I hear the sharpness in his voice when he knocked on my bedroom door at 17 to tell me he'd totaled his car.
This, I think, is what love is: taking it all in, hoping for the best. Admiring the lake's shimmering surface and unknown depths. Building a bank of memories, and cherishing them all equally.