To inaugurate our Classics section—which will appear occasionally in the magazine—we bring you Florida Scott-Maxwell. Actor, author, feminist, Jungian analyst, she lived from 1883 to 1979. In her eighties, Maxwell wrote the famous The Measure of My Days, a book of ruminations that explore the “territory of the old” with piercing insight and great courage. The book also took on psychological issues prevalent in society at that time (1968). The following excerpt, with permission from Random House, offers a tantalizing taste of this brilliant woman’s contribution to our thinking.
Death feels a friend because it will release us from the deterioration of which we cannot see the end. These thoughts are with us always, and in our hearts we know ignominy as well as dignity. We are people to whom something important is about to happen …
But we also find that as we age we are more alive than seems likely, convenient, or even bearable. Too often our problem is the fervour of life within us. My dear fellow octogenarians, how are we to carry so much life and what are we to do with it?
When truly old, too frail to use the vigour that pulses in us, and weary, sometimes even scornful of what can seem the pointless activity of mankind, we may sink down to some deeper level and find a new supply of life that amazes us.
All is uncharted and uncertain, we seem to lead the way into the unknown. It can feel as though all our lives we have been caught in absurdly small personalities and circumstances and belief. Our accustomed shell cracks here, cracks there, and that tiresomely rigid person we supposed to be ourselves stretches, expands, and with all inhibitions gone we realize that age is not failure, nor disgrace … Here we come to a new place of which I knew nothing …a larger place still, the place of release.