“From wonder into wonder, existence opens.”
I dreaded turning sixty. For months before my birthday, I imagined a fire-breathing dragon lurking around the corner, waiting to singe off my eyebrows at the entry way into the inexorable downhill slide into that last third of life—a journey studded with taunts and smirks of little red demons holding up images of medicine bottles, hearing aids, cataracts, wrinkled skin, forgetfulness, and worst of all, funeral-after-funeral of friends and family. It seemed all too much. And so, I took my lamentations to the park and walked along a sunny, tree-lined path, feeling that perhaps the old trees could offer some comfort or advice. After all, they were aged, too, and they didn’t seem to mind.
Ambling among the trees, my mind turned to one of my favorite fictional characters, Mrs. Fisher. Mrs. Fisher is the lonely English dowager who dignifies the pages of Elizabeth von Arnim’s novel Enchanted April. It's set in the heady 1920s, when youthful excesses tried to drown out the brutal detritus of grief left behind by the Great War. Being old was not in fashion. But here is Mrs. Fisher, a prideful, stiff, and self-enclosed older woman, who pines after friends long gone and laments her own feelings of "deadness" inside. Yet, she is strangely stuck in this feeling. She reluctantly agrees to join two younger women for a sunny Spring retreat in Italy. There, in the presence of new friends and climbing wisteria and budding trees, her soul begins to grow disturbingly restless. While walking alone along a tree-lined path with her old wooden cane, she finally gives in to the notion that something odd is happening inside her. In fact, much to her chagrin, the old woman felt “a curious sensation, which worried her, of rising sap. . ." Von Arnim describes Mrs. Fisher's alarm:
"It was such an absurd sensation at her age. Yet oftener and oftener, and every day more and more, did Mrs. Fisher have a ridiculous feeling as if she were presently going to burgeon. Sternly she tried to frown the unseemly sensation down. Burgeon, indeed. She had heard of dried staffs, pieces of mere dead wood, suddenly putting forth fresh leaves, but only in legend. She was not in legend. She knew perfectly what was due to herself. Dignity demanded that she should have nothing to do with fresh leaves at her age; and yet there it was — the feeling that presently, that at any moment now, she might crop out all green."
Thankfully, despite her struggle ...