Great age

A note from my sister-in-law Virginia Transue (my (late) man Jacques’s (late) older brother Bill’s wife — Virginia and I are the survivors) on Facebook yesterday, in the matter of my 9/6 birthday, this year my 82nd:

VT: Funny how every single year you are 5 weeks ahead of me [her birthday is 10/12]. What a great age we have both reached.

AZ > VT: Yes, always those five weeks. What a great age we have both reached: I’d like to read that as having great ‘of ability, quality, or eminence considerably above the normal or average’ — at an apogee — but you might well just have meant ‘of an extent, amount, or intensity considerably above the normal or average’ — exceptionally large. Well, whatever, somehow we’ve gotten here.

A little lexicography, some personal history involving my first male lover (also a survivor), and it will end with Elaine Stritch singing.

A little lexicography. NOAD on the adjective great:

1 [a] of an extent, amount, or intensity considerably above the normal or average: the article was of great interest | she showed great potential as an actor | a great crowd thronged the marketplace. … 2 [a] of ability, quality, or eminence considerably above the normal or average: the great Italian conductor | great art has the power to change lives | we obeyed our great men and leaders. …

In particular, when we’re talking about great age, it might be sense 1a, as in fossils of great age; or sense 2a, as in 7 is a great age for kids

In fact, you might think that 7 is not only a great age, but that it is in fact the best age — as in the piece on the SheKnows website, “7 Is the Absolute Best Age & Nobody Can Tell Me Otherwise”, by Sabrina Rojas Weiss on 9/20/20, from which:

… I think my son has reached the absolute ideal age I’d been looking forward to all this time: 7 years old.

Come at me with all your arguments. Of course, every age is special. Of course, my love for him is going to keep on growing past this age, and I can’t possibly predict the future. Of course, I kind of thought this about him when he was 18 months old, and 2, and 5, and 6. And yes, I have also received dire warnings about the mood swings that come with an uptick in hormones starting as early as 6 but usually around 8 for boys. I am only half listening to all of that. You won’t dissuade me from thinking that 7 is the best age.

I don’t, however, think of my current age as wonderful. For one thing, people are dying all around me (I pick up new friendships, but they’re with people of an age to be my children or grand-children). In the past year I lost my two oldest friends — friendships forged when we were all 7 years old, in 1947, and maintained, with fluctuating degrees of intensity, over the following 75 years, until Lenore Barth died last September and Al Fritz this July. But they were, of course, of great age.

So I’m reading Virginia’s great age as having the ‘exceptionally large’ sense, not the ‘at an apogee’ sense. See my 9/6/20 birthday posting “Celebratory day”, on the hymn “Ancient of Days”, among other things.

“I’m Still Here”. Another birthday message arrived yesterday from my first male lover (from roughly 50 years ago, some years before Jacques), the pseudonymous Danny Sparrick in my writings about my sexual life. Danny noted, among other things (like the mutual regard and deep affection that have endured through all those years), that we have both somehow managed to survive to a great age (me 82 on 9/6, him 75 on 10/16), citing the Follies song “I’m still here!” (alas, Stephen Sondheim is not).

From the Wikipedia article on the song, with some analysis of its content:

What makes the song interesting and poignant is the very real mixture of emotions of an older person reviewing her life, seeing how the good and the bad in life are bound to come, alternately or sometimes simultaneously, and in having reached a certain age there is a sense of both cynicism and triumph. This mixture is expressed in the emotional impact of the music itself, which gradually begins to swell as the song progresses from what starts as a nightclub lounge-act performance into a brassy big-band cabaret style finish.

I’ve run the gamut.
A to Z.
Three cheers and dammit,
C’est la vie.
I got through all of last year
And I’m here.

As she goes through an outline of her life, skimming through the pages of her mental scrapbook, she builds up to the realization that, good or bad, she managed to get through her life and that she is a survivor. With that realization there is a confidence and a sense of triumph, but with an edge to it.

That’s a screen capture from the film of Elaine Stritch — who is also, alas, no longer here — performing the song at Sondheim’s 80th Birthday Concert in 2010 with the New York Philharmonic at Avery Fisher Hall / Lincoln Center. You can watch the YouTube video of this amazing performance here.

Meanwhile, Virginia, Danny, and I (somehow) got through all of last year, and we’re here.


One Response to “Great age”

  1. arnold zwicky Says:

    About the Stritch video, I suppressed my enthusiast’s desire to insert into this posting the exhortation


    Now Danny has written me a calmer, more analytical comment about

    Elaine Stritch’s exquisite performance. What a treasure she was. Such depth of character and total control of craft. It’s deeply satisfying to know Sondheim was there to witness this.

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