A New York Times series, “It’s Never Too Late,” tells uplifting stories about “older” people who started new ventures, dared to try something new in their “later” years. I enjoy these stories, and I appreciate the encouragement they are meant to represent, but I also feel a little sense of rebellion about them, as I believe Emilie Loring did, too.
We internalize that these are extraordinary stories, brave men and women who dared the odds, fought back against… against what? Age? Or expectations about it?
“For Pete’s sake, forget that age obsession. Some psychiatrist should start a movement to isolate the age bug. It does more harm than the boll weevil by the loss to the world of experienced workers.”Emilie Loring
The age-defying actions in the New York Times series range from age 40 to 86. Forty?! Seriously?! I’m always amused that, looking up, an age seems “old,” and once you reach it, the next age seems old.
Guess how old Emilie Loring was when she wrote this:
“I’m not so juvenile as to consider sixty-five old“Uncharted Seas
That’s right, she was sixty-five, and she clearly didn’t feel that her time to decline had arrived.
It’s amusing that this has to be rediscovered, over and again, by each generation as they, too, get to one of the fading, drop-off points with more ideas, more capability, more ambition than they’d been led to believe.
Emilie Loring’s author friends illustrate the point.
Sara Ware Bassett taught kindergarten until her forties. Then, she walked into a publisher’s office and asked if she could write for him. “How much do you know about lumber?” he asked. “Nothing,” she replied, “but I will tomorrow.” She wrote The Story of Lumber and a dozen more “Story of” books for children as well as seven Cape Cod novels, two of which became motion pictures. Serious illness brought her writing to an end in the 1920s. She was told not to even think of taking it on again. When she emerged two years later, at fifty-nine, she picked up her pen and wrote twenty-six more novels, her last at age eighty-five.
Clara Endicott Sears was born to wealth and position, with no need to do more than fulfill social obligations. But at forty-eight, she’d had enough. She self-published a pocket book of inspirational quotations, “The Power Within,” and began again. She opened her Fruitlands Museum at fifty-one, her Shaker Museum at fifty-seven, her Native American Museum at sixty-five and her Art Museum at seventy-five. She wrote two books of poetry, two novels, and seven historical books, the last one at age ninety-two. The Power Within, indeed!
“Rod, some day you’ll realize that when folks get into the sixties an’ have an important thing to do, they don’t stop to pick daisies by the roadside, they get it done. Whatta mean is, they don’t do no puttin’ off till tomorrow.”Hilltops Clear
Of course, “too late” comes for some things. There can be no new experiences, no more time together, with loved ones who have passed. In the present, we sometimes find ways to feel them near. Emilie wrote her family into her stories, fully alive, speaking and laughing as they used to. Noah Caswell was her father; David Schuyler, her brother; Merry Vernon, her sister; and the Reyburn family was the Bakers after her father’s death. Emilie’s friends, servants, neighbors, and grandparents frequently came back to life in cameo roles.
We can recognize too late the wealth of information that passes away when someone dies. “I wish I’d asked…” Yes, it’s too late to ask them the questions, but it may not be too late to find the answers.
Emilie Loring died when her grandchildren ranged from seven to twenty-three, before the age of curiosity about their elders’ lives. She left behind no diaries, no box of letters–or at least, none survived.
“… she had sorted and disposed of her mother’s intimate belongings. Letters to be read before destroying, others to be tossed unopened into the fire…”Swift Water
It took some time–okay, a lot of time–but a single packet of information from the Loring family grew to forty-five notebooks about Emilie Loring, and if truth be told, keeps growing, since this habit of looking for “all things Emilie” is now ingrained.
It will never be all, but “everything you learn allows you to see more,” and Emilie’s biography has evolved over time from “Where did she come from? How did she become a writer?” to exploring what moved her at different times in her life, her relationships with people around her, her approach to problems, her reflections, her insights.
That’s a woman to listen to.
“Even after that discipline, I still believe that the beautiful things of life are as real as the ugly things of life; that gay courage may turn threatened defeat into victory; that hitching one’s wagon to the star of achievement lifts one high above the quicksands of discouragement.”Give Me One Summer
The next time you have an idea for achievement put your whole personality behind it, audaciously snap your fingers at failure, count the chances of success and try it out.Emilie Loring
This is why the biography’s title has changed one last time, from Happy Landings: The Life Behind Emilie Loring’s Stories to:
Happy Landings: Emilie Loring’s Life, Writing, and Wisdom
Happy Landings, everyone!