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Ripeness is All

By Jaya Mehta

Jaya Mehta

I looked down at my shoe and saw a long trail of toilet paper clinging to the sole. I had used the mall bathroom earlier, and I must have been trailing it after me for the last couple of hours as I shopped. Matter-of-factly, I detached it using the other shoe. I must have looked quite ridiculous as I drifted from store to store with my toilet-paper streamer. Probably many pointed at me and giggled. And yet I was not mortified, or even embarrassed. What did it matter if people I didn’t know and who didn’t know me ridiculed me?

            And that is one of the beauties of growing older. You don’t care about what other people think of you as much as you once did.

            Being now in my sixties, I will say I am oldish. I don’t feel old—unconsciously, I think of myself as middle-aged. Is that because I am in denial, immature, or youthful at heart? I don’t know. I remember when I was maybe in my twenties, my mother saying she didn’t feel old, and I remember looking at her and thinking, really? But now I’d say, yes, really!

            So, being oldish. We all dread old age—but how bad is it really? Many studies have shown, counter-intuitively, that old people are happier than middle-aged or young people. I found this profoundly surprising the first time I read about it. And yet now that I am at the door of old age, I will say this is true for me. I feel more at peace with myself—my flaws, my virtues, my gifts, my deficits—than ever before. And I feel more tolerant (maybe not very tolerant, but more tolerant, at least) of others’ flaws and deficits. More forgiving of hurt. More willing to put anger behind me. And more appreciative of virtues. I care less about what other people think of me because I am more sure of what I think of myself. I feel more comfortable in my skin.

            Age can enhance not only happiness, but creativity. Writing is one of the human endeavors where youth is not an asset. Young people feel things keenly, it is true, but they cannot distill as well as their elders. The range and depth of experience we accumulate throughout a long and bumpy life gives us a broader palate, more confident brush strokes, and more saturated hues. Furthermore, over decades, we have read more, and we are inspired by the novels, poems, and plays that we have read. We draw more from the writing we admire. We have a symphony of voices in our heads.

            In literature, there are no child prodigies, as there are in music, mathematics, and chess, for example. Most writers write their best work in their later years. Shakespeare’s early plays are downright silly. Northanger Abbey, though delightful, is a lighter novel than Jane Austen’s five ensuing ones, whereas Persuasion, her last completed novel, is has the most depth of feeling. George Eliot’s Adam Bede has little of the moral searching, complexity of characters, and variety of people and plots, all brilliantly woven together, that Middlemarch has. Of course, one could say that naturally writers learn their craft as they age, but I think that is not the only reason they become better. They become wiser, more versed in nuance and complexity, more acquainted with diversity of experience, more capable of emotional depth.

            In literature, age is ripeness, and “ripeness is all.”


Jaya Mehta is the co-author, with Susan Lynn Meyer, of a forthcoming picture book titled Nisha and the Just-Right Christmas Tree (Beaming Books). She won a LitUp Fellowship from Reese's Book Club for a YA novel manuscript in 2022. She lives outside Boston, among all the animals left behind by her college-age twins.

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