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Page Two of Dazzling All Comers

More than that, I felt immeasurably fortunate. To be standing up and not needing, like May has had to use over the last few years, a basic walking stick, then some sort of rolling item, and now a special chair. How would I ever cope with a similar situation; in a room, surrounded by what looked liked one percent of her possessions, needing help with almost everything, and yet with a smile to dazzle all comers?

May is lucky in that she has people to bring her things, to jolly her along and, when she’s very weak, to even help her eat.

Despite many health problems, she told me she is happy, peaceful and best of all, feels safe. She enjoys sitting looking out over the sea, listening to her big band music of the thirties and forties, remembering other times.

Perhaps it takes seeing someone we love with every fibre of our being, when they are old, when they simply cannot manage any more without constant care, to make us take stock, jump up, not waste endless time watching TV or pursuing other useless activities, and to knuckle down to those things we said we definitely would do, but never got started on.

I left the nursing home on the hill and for the rest of my stay in Ireland, I spent a lot of time thinking about May and her life. I considered her substantial influence on me, especially as a teenager and in my twenties. When I pondered on my own life today I found I had become a little sluggish.

I returned to the southwest of France and set about changing a few things. I physically changed a room so I now have a proper dressing room at last. After all, I too have always been interested in fashion and be able to see my shoes and bag collections.

The old desk and the big PC is now on another floor — how grand that sounds, it’s actually a mezzanine space between two levels.

I took a very old, small, blue and yellow table, covered it in fringed shawls and this is where my laptop sits — the one I use for all writing now. Beside it is The Maeve Binchy Writers’ Club. This is a book that makes us determined to complete our project; I have sent word to her that even before the end of January, almost half of it is already full of my notes for the new novel idea.

This new project, totally different to my other efforts, (all now archived and out of sight) has been well and truly started. Time has been spent on it. The bulk of the writing will be done before the end of June this year, 2010, and then the re-writing will start.

What is interesting about this project is I have no concerns about the outcome. What will be will be. It’s as if I am considering at last, that my writing is actually work, not just something done in a few snatched moments during the day. It’s as if I have been given, or given myself, some sort of grace to do what it is that I love doing more than anything else, at this point in my life.

I feel I have received a sort of wake-up call, no doubt from having seen one of the most influential women in my life so weak, so feeble, now so limited in her choices. It’s as if I want to use time to plan and to do what’s right for me, not fritter it away reacting to situations (and interruptions) that occur.

In an English journal I recently read some wonderful new ideas about aging. As well as all the usual stuff, like sixty and seventy being nothing at all, and people swimming and dancing into their nineties, the best bit for me was this. Apparently, studies have shown that the people who do better, who go on to really enjoy and thrive in old age, are women who write, and those who started late in life have a marvelous future ahead of them, because they have so much to say. What a marvelous thought.

So, when the time comes and I regretfully must hang up my big boots and mad shoes, hopefully I can wear a big purple hat and sit at a little table, doing what I love best.

©2010 Jane Shortall for

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