Across from Sarah Winman’s post-lecture book signing table stands a giant, four-sided blackboard. Across the top, above the plastic baskets of chalk and multi-coloured lines of fill-in-the-blank script, a single prompt reads:
‘As I age…’
|Pic by Michelle Fredregill|
As a twenty-something with a fierce aversion to the whole concept, ageing isn’t something I particularly like to dwell on. However, having picked up a few lessons between Winman’s novel, A Year of Marvellous Ways and her lecture, I’ve decided that perhaps instead of fearing it, ageing well – ageing like Marvellous – isn’t such a bad way to go about things; in fact, I think I’m looking forward to trying.
Page one whisks us away to post-World War Two England and into the Cornish creek-side caravan of Miss Marvellous Ways, an elderly loner who has lived on the fringe of society most of her life. Between her mysterious heritage (the orphaned daughter of a mermaid, according to local lore) and her gifts as a midwife and clairvoyant of sorts, Marvellous is simultaneously revered and feared by her fellow villagers.
Her solitude is interrupted by the unexpected arrival of Francis Drake, a young soldier who has been left battered and scarred in the war’s aftermath. As Marvellous works to heal him, they form a beautiful, intergenerational bond that changes them both in unexpected and delightful ways.
This brings us to the first lesson:
Lesson 1: Pass on your stories – and listen to those of others
A recurring topic throughout the lecture was Marvellous’ remarkable storytelling and the importance of sharing our experiences with others.
‘But she has to find someone to tell them to,’ interviewer, Renata Singer pointed out. And as Marvellous found her listener in Drake, each of us need to find someone to share our own histories with in order to age well.
‘She knows that her memory is going, and this is another reason why she needs to share these stories,’ Winman explained. ‘It’s as if she’s got a cage full of doves, and each one is so valued to her, and she needs to open that door and let these stories out so that they can live. It’s almost like planting a flag on the marker of life, to say, you know what? I was here.’
Lesson 2: Take care of your body and the land, and it will take care of you
89-year-old Marvellous possesses independence and physical strength in spades. Maintaining a garden, walking long distances and swimming daily would exhaust many people half her age, but Marvellous does all these things and more. A feat Winman attributes to a clean diet of fresh fish, gathered nuts and home-grown greens; a deep, loving understanding of her land; and a simple life lived ‘within the tides of nature,’ – plus a touch of sloe gin. (Lesson 2.5: A friendly drink here and there can be good for the body and the mind!)
‘She knows what makes her well,’ Winman said. ‘The cherishing of the body, I believe, goes with the cherishing of the earth - it always has.’
Lesson 3: Believe in your own inner magic
With a name like Marvellous Ways, you’re bound to be extraordinary, and our heroine doesn’t disappoint. Winman’s explanation behind the name is worth the discussion: Marvellous’ father gave her a protective name, one that would be there when he wouldn’t.
‘And why shouldn’t someone be named Marvellous?’ she asked her audience with a laugh. No reason not to be, we murmured in response.
With that said, you don’t need a name like hers to tap into your own magical qualities.
Marvellous’ uncanny ability to preemptively read people, places and situations puts her somewhere between intuitive village elder and fairy godmother. But whether or not the magic was real is irrelevant, Winman explained.
If you ask me, the real magic was her ability to trust and believe in herself: to live, to love, to guide, to heal, and ultimately, to write her own ending. Which is something we can all aspire to, at any age.
Edited by Angela Hryc