Saturday, October 23, 2010


Excerpt from "The Elegance of the Hedgehog," after a retirement home visit by a precocious thirteen-year-old and her family to see her paternal grandmother:

On the contrary, we absolutely mustn't forget it. We mustn't forget old people with their rotten bodies, old people who are so close to death, something that young people don't want to think about (so it is to retirement homes that they entrust the care of accompanying their parents to the threshold, with no fuss or bother). And where's the joy in these final hours that they ought to be making the most of? They're spent in boredom and bitterness, endlessly revisiting memories. We mustn't forget that our bodies decline, friends die, everyone forgets about us, and the end is solitude. Nor must we forget that these old people were young once, that a lifespan is pathetically short, that one day you're twenty and the next day you're eighty. Colombe thinks you can 'hurry up and forget' because it all seems so very far away to her, the prospect of old age, as if it were never going to happen to her. But just by observing the adults around me I understood very early on that life goes by in no time at all, yet they're always in such a hurry, so stressed out by deadlines, so eager for now that they needn't think about tomorrow...But if you dread tomorrow, it's because you don't know how to build the present, and when you don't know how to build the present, you tell yourself you can deal with it tomorrow, and it's a lost cause anyway because tomorrow always ends up becoming today, don't you see?

So, we mustn't forget any of this, absolutely not. We have to live with the certainty that we'll get old and that it won't look nice or be good or feel happy. And tell ourselves that it's not that matters: to build something, now, at any price, using all our strength. Always remember that there's a retirement home waiting somewhere and so we have to surpass ourselves every day, make every day undying. Climb our own personal Everest and do it in such a way that every step is a little bit of eternity.

That's what the future is for: to build the present, with real plans, made by living people.


  1. That reading hits close to home since I am taking a class called Death and Dying Paradigms, which is a theology/ philosophy course geared towards nursing students.

    Just out of curiosity ~ why did you pick this book to read? :)

  2. I'd been seeing this book in airport bookstores all year last year when I was interviewing. Then over the weekend when I was in Baltimore a classmate said she really wanted to read it, so I decided to check it out myself...