A melancholy lesson of advancing years is the realisation that you can’t make old friends.
Christopher Hitchens, Unacknowledged Legislation: Writers in the Public Sphere
A few years ago one of my colleagues told me about his experience of visiting his mother in an “old people’s home”. Usually, he said, he spent his weekly visits talking just with his mum, and he saw the other residents in the home not as individuals with lives and stories, but more as a collection of geriatrics whose presence in his mother’s home he had no choice but to tolerate.
Then one day his mum was busy with something when he turned up for his visit and he had nothing else to do but talk with some of the people sharing the roof over his mother’s head. And he realised that they were amazing. He heard extraordinary stories about the lives that people had lead, the things they’d achieved and the sacrifices they’d had to make. It was a good reminder for him, he said, to always look behind the possible decrepitude to see the life and the love and the story.
A number of months ago I made a new friend in Geneva. I was sitting at a bus stop outside of the Art Geneve exhibition at Palexpo and the lady sitting next to me took an English novel out of her handbag, so I struck up a conversation with her. By the time we’d reached Cornavin we’d established that she was born in the same year as my mum and I was born in the same year as her daughter. This, to me, is a very special kind of friendship, for reasons that those who know me well will understand (and those who don’t can read about here). The next time we met we went to see a photography exhibition and spent about five hours telling each other about our lives. It was at the end of that rendezvous that I told her that I was going to be in The Vagina Monologues and she said she’d like to come along.
And she did. My lovely 72-year-old friend K was there in the audience for the matinee performance, laughing and crying and whooping it up with the best of them. The hug I got from her after the show was more important to me than perhaps she realises.
One of the monologues that K was most touched by was The Flood, which was based on Eve Ensler’s interviews with a group of women between 65 and 75. One of the women said that she’d never had an orgasm and had cried when she’d seen her clitoris for the first time at the age of 72. Eve Ensler wrote The Flood for her, and our directors cast the wonderful Christina to play her part. They couldn’t have chosen better. Christina’s warmth, charm and humour paid perfect tribute to the woman and the life that she might have had if things had panned out differently for her.
After the matinee performance of the play K asked if I could introduce her to Christina. A brief but beautiful moment passed between a 72-year-old woman and a woman decades younger who had played a 72-year-old woman.
It was a good reminder to all of us to always look behind the possible decrepitude to see the life and the love and the story.