20 to 21 - coming of age
"Never let the future disturb you. You will meet it, if you have to, with the same weapons of reason which today arm you against the present." Marcus Aurelius, Meditations, circa AD 171–175
I'm certain I would be 21 in this photo. If I'm 22 it would be only just. I know this for a fact because David took it at university - sitting on the wall outside the student's union building. It would probably have been in the last stages of my university years but I only turned 22 just before the end of the year. So let's say I'm 21.
When I was 21 a whole lot of things changed for me. An earlier love came to an end with the usual temporary heartbreak - on my side at least. But then my relationship with David began and here we are two sons, five grandchildren and living on the other side of the world, 56 years later (if my maths is correct), still together in spite of the inevitable ups and downs.
At the age of 21 in the university summer break I spent three months in France as an au pair, reaching the heights of my fluency in the language - one shop lady once thought I was either Swiss or Belgian, I was in seventh heaven - and made the acquaintance of the best cook it has ever been my privilege to watch every day - Madame Perruque. I watched her perform miracles of Provençale cuisine and stupidly did not write anything down. I was still young. It certainly confirmed my ongoing love affair with France, its people and its food.
It's not quite true to say that 21 marked the end of my university education - I was 22 then - but almost, so the beginning of the rest of my life. My life as an adult. The age at which: "now you can do all the things you were already doing, but weren't supposed to be." as some unknown wit said. And indeed even in my time, turning 21 was not nearly as significant as it had been in the past. 18 was becoming the new 21, and for all I know that has gone down to 16. For some things anyway, and depending where you live. But looking at that photograph I see that I was so young, and so unaware of so many things, although actually much more passionate about the injustices of the world.
It's the idea that there should be a moment and some kind of ritual to mark the achievement of adulthood that's important though isn't it? Adulthood is a nebulous concept celebrated at ages from as young as 12 to as old as ? - well at least 21.
In a sense, when the world reached the 21st century that was the moment when it reached adulthood. But like most 21 year olds the world has squandered those first few years of maturity, so now that we are moving from 2020 to 2021 let's hope that the past 20 years have taught us enough to search for a better way forward.
I suppose the signs are not good. Sydney, in spite of having new COVID outbreaks celebrated with fireworks in traditional manner. Caution was doubtless thrown to the winds, as it will be elsewhere in the world, but in a way one has to admire the sense of optimism and verve that this shows. The irrepressible determination to what exactly? I hope it's to do more than party. Perhaps it's an overwhelming need to be with others when the world turns.
Here in Melbourne the official fireworks were 'off' this year and we were banned from the city unless we had tickets. Locally though I could hear a few small bangs and pops as others decided to go for a bit of joy anyway. No longer 21 we personally declined to celebrate the end of 2020 - because that's really what we should have been celebrating - a truly difficult year - although just one among many in the history of the world. Which probably just means that we are old.
"youth is when you're allowed to stay up on New Year's Eve. Middle age is when you're forced to." Bill Vaughan
Old age is when you no longer have to - you can do what you want. Rules no longer apply.
There is still a long way, and many deaths to go before COVID19 is defeated, or at least subdued. There are other troubles in the world of course, and this will always be so as long as there is inequality in power and possessions - from basic food and water, to who owns what piece of land. And yet, there are signs - very small I have to confess - that perhaps we are at last learning a few lessons. Utmost among them is that more is achieved if we all work together and that it is possible to improve the chances of the world surviving what we are currently throwing at it. Certainly huge changes are afoot in the way we work and travel, and interact.
"You see things; you say, 'Why?' But I dream things that never were; and I say 'Why not?'" —George Bernard Shaw, Back to Methuselah, 1921
"Just remember, once you're over the hill, you begin to pick up speed." - Charles M. Schulz
Which could be interpreted optimistically or pessimistically depending on your own state of mind.
Today - the first of January 2021 I decided to be optimistic and planted a very small vegetable patch with lettuce, rainbow chard, pak choy and bok choy. I'm an optimist because my gardening skills are absolutely deplorable. There is a very real chance that they will die. I also decided that every day I will take a photograph of something ordinary like this and paste it in my new daily diary that my son bought me for Christmas. And I shall boost that with something beautiful, or surprising, striking, unusual - something that catches my eye - like the agapanthus that are currently flowering everywhere in Eltham. They are beautiful weeds and these are ours.
Then at the end of the year I can look back and see that in spite of everything that might happen, life carried on. Even if the life in all of those hopeful seedlings dies. No - some of them will survive surely? If I protect them from the rabbits that is. That's my next project.
"You don't get older, you get better." Shirley Bassey
"There is a crack in everything, that's how the light gets in." Leonard Cohen
"Hope sees the invisible, feels the intangible, and achieves the impossible." Helen Keller
But what is the point of this particular long-winded ramble? Well I suppose it's to compare my young, dare I say innocent, young girl at the age of 21, with the world at the sort of age of 21. I knew very little of the world in spite of already having lived through a war (wiped from my memory), spent a lot of time in a foreign land - France, and lived through the Cuba Missile crisis and the threat of nuclear war. Since that time I have lived through more terrible things both personally and as a citizen of the world, and yet I am still here, still optimistic that my plants will grow and the world will somehow get through the threat of COVID and the even more alarming idea that the world itself and the entire human race is on the brink of extinction. I still believe that my gorgeous grandchildren will have some sort of a future, even possibly a happy one, if enough of the world's leaders come to their senses and do what actually can be done to save the planet. In words from long, long ago:
"The beginning is the most important part of the work." Plato, The Republic, 375 B.C.