Rethinking The Age of Innocence

I finally got around to watching the movie representation of the classic novel, The Age of Innocence by Edith Wharton. First I must say that I was very impressed and pleased by how faithful the screenplay was to the original text. Nothing seemed to be overlooked or left out. There was little to no deviation from the text’s plot. There was even a helpful narration from time to time to fill in anything that couldn’t be directly expressed in the scenes. That being said, the movie or perhaps just experiencing the story a second time, allowed me to gain new insight, understanding, and perspective.

When I first wrote about this book and its effect on me many months ago, I feel I was only taking things at face value. I was devastated at the tragedy as it unfolded before me. I saw a man and woman that loved one another, were perfectly suited for one another in fact, being kept apart by life’s trivialities and the judgement of others. I saw a sad husband and wife living a lie in silence while true love withered just beyond reach. Now I’m not so certain in my initial perception.

I think perhaps one of the unspoken messages of this book was that an inner fantasy is always better and more perfect than anything in real life could ever be. I think this is the reason why Archer walked away at the end rather than go meet Madam Olenska when finally, they could have been together. It’s truly bizarre how the span of only a few months could completely change the impression this story left on me. Now instead of being baffled and angered by Archer’s final decision, a part of me understands and feels sympathy for it. It wasn’t merely that he didn’t really love Olenska, nor that he was a coward, unwilling to take that love when it was finally held before him.

Now I see Archer as a young man, believing in that idealized love, that perfect relationship, growing slowly older and wiser throughout the course of his married and family life with May. In the end, it was worth more to him to sacrifice what would most likely be a disappointing manifestation of a youthful ideal in order to keep the perfect memory he already possessed just as it was, pristine yet unobtainable. The love he shared with Olenska, sadly could never have been realized, even if they had run away together. I think Archer, after all his years, finally understood this. Perhaps Madam Olenska, in her wise, worldly way always had. She hoped against all hope, but somehow because of her life experience, was never quite as naive as Archer in believing the life in which they would be happy together could ever truly exist.

I sincerely hope that I too will outgrow this naive image of a perfect, fated love in order to more fully enjoy and appreciate the real love in my life. And perhaps even learn to enjoy that pang of regret and curiosity for what could have been when it strikes my heart, knowing that the memories I hold, the future I imagined, will always be more lovely than the reality would have been.

Why I Love 'The Age of Innocence' | by Mel Campbell | The Look | Medium

Sacrificing Happiness

As the new year looms nearer and nearer, my faith in myself and my plans to make big life changes has already begun to falter. When fear bubbles to the surface, it is so comforting and easy to tell myself I don’t have to change if I’m afraid. I can keep going on the way I have been. But then I realize after a moment of relief, that I also fear that path. Perhaps even more.

It always feels easier to give up on myself before I even try. I’ve done it countless times in the past. But I’ve also forced myself past my limits and surprised myself many time as well. I want 2021 to be part of the latter set of experiences. I just have to keep my true goal in mind when my fears start to tug at me.

My mind has gotten so clouded with things that I’ve decided will give me happiness. A skinny body, endless self-destructive pleasures, distraction from anxiety, a sparkling exterior life. But most of these things I have already tasted. I got down to my lowest weight since middle school this summer, but I was desperately unhappy. I was not satisfied at all. I didn’t view my body any more favorably. I just found new flaws to fixate on in the mirror. Even those around me didn’t give me the attention I expected. My weight loss was noticed, but I was not congratulated. I was looked at with alarm and concern.

Even though that didn’t bring me any happiness, I still fear getting back to healthy eating habits. My mind tells me that I wasn’t attractive thin, but I’ll be absolutely grotesque if I weigh more. I’m afraid. My mind tells me I need my unhealthy coping mechanisms to keep the anxiety at bay. It tells me I won’t be able to face that anxiety any other way.

I mustn’t listen to that part of myself. I have to remember my goal. My ultimate goal was never to “be skinny” or to “avoid anxiety.” My goal has and always will be finding happiness and peace within myself. I foolishly allowed myself to follow this destructive path in a desperate attempt to find some sort of superficial happiness, but I can see there is nothing here waiting for me at the end of the road.

Maybe the next path I take won’t lead me to happiness either, but I still have to try. Because it will at least rule out one more option. It will at least give me new insight, a new direction to follow. Besides, I genuinely believe I know the path to my happiness. If I can only find the strength to pursue it.

Happiness is inside of me. All I need to do is take care of myself, love myself. Stop clouding my mind and my heart out of fear. Stop running from myself. I truly have nothing to lose. I’m ready to nurture myself, listen to myself, allow myself to flourish. I know what I have to do. I’ve just got to believe in myself enough to try.