Tove Jansson was an artist, both visual and verbal, who is best known for her Moomintroll series for children. I fell in love with The Summer Book years ago, only recently finding a couple of her other novels. Two days ago I bought Fair Play from Elliott Bay's remainder table and discovered this at a time when I needed to read it, advice from a man who is ninety-two to a woman who "is barely seventy."
"...do not tire, never lose interest, never grow indifferent--lose your invaluable curiosity and you let yourself die. It's as simple as that. No?"
My mother is eighty-nine years old, plus five months. Her body is worn out; her mind has not tired. Confined to a bed, she reads a book a day, she chats with my sister, she is delighted to receive mail.
For the entire sixty-four years that I have known her, my mother has been illuminated by her "invaluable curiosity." She has never grown indifferent; she has always been a woman who believes that every day holds a new present, waiting to be discovered.
Through her life, my mother lived at times in rough circumstances; they never defined who she was. No matter what she wore, what house she lived in, what food she put on her table, or how ill she might be, she carried herself with the dignity of a true aristocrat. Her public composure was absolute; her interest in everything that surrounded her was unflagging. She has never stopped looking at the world with the attention and careful observation of a novelist.
I used to lecture my mother on the colors that were most becoming to her, took her shopping to find clothes that made her skin gleam and flattered her figure. She let me do that, but it really didn't matter to her or to anyone else who knew her. She has always been a woman whose exterior is the covering of a bright and beautiful spirit; she still is.
In her final days, my mother has been generous in her gift to her daughters. All of us have been given a chance to see what the end of our lives can be, if we face them with courage and dignity, without whining or "sniveling"--two things my mother always abhorred. But perhaps even greater is the legacy I've only recently begun to appreciate, her gift of "invaluable curiosity," her unflagging interest in life, her deep and inextinguishable love.