Marie de Hennezel is an author and psychologist. Her book The Warmth of the Heart Prevents the Body from Rusting has sold over 100,000 copies in France and is currently #5 on Amazon’s bestseller list in England.
In this meditation on ageing, the author guides us through a true ‘art of growing old’. She recalls her encounters as a clinical psychologist with “those who grow old gracefully” – and through her experience shows us how to make the most of this time in our lives, to avoid depression and to stay happy. She believes that wherever we grow old and whatever our circumstances, if we can maintain an energy in our hearts and believe in the power of joy and human warmth, this can transform us and the way we look at the world. She will be speaking at the Library on April 13th at 19h30.
Marie, why did you write this book?
I wrote it to help my generation – the ageing baby boomers – to get its bearings. We are told we will live longer and in good health. And yet we are afraid of growing old. I myself went through a difficult time while writing the book, when I reached the age of sixty. I felt how much my generation suffers from the disparaging way our society, which idolises youth, looks on old age. I realised that there lay a challenge that we had to meet.
Can you talk about the challenge?
We must learn to age without becoming old. Like the Okinawa supercentenarians, from whom I borrowed the title of the book, who are considered by the younger generations to bring luck, as “lucky charms”. We must accept to grow old, while remaining open to all the new things that old age brings with it. The body ages, but not the heart. I have met many very old people for whom the experience of old age is a happy one, because they remain dynamic, emotionally young and curious of the world and of others.
What is the secret of growing old well?
You have to invest in growing old. One must learn to detach oneself, because there are bereavements, and to age well one must be reconciled with life. One must also work on being alert to new experiences, and there are many. One has more time. One does things more slowly. One becomes more attentive, more sensitive, more sensuous. One of my friends who speaks Hebrew tells me that in Hebrew the same work, Guil, means both what is old, and joy. What my generation must develop is the capacity for joy and wonder, if it doesn’t want to be a burden on the younger generations. If we want to be old people that radiate warmth.
We are not helped by the way our society looks on old age, hiding it as if it were something shameful. Faced with the prospect of living longer, we ask ourselves “How and where will we grow old?” Will we still be lovable? Will we try to remain young as long as possible, for fear of growing old? We are promised a longer life, in good health. But faced with the prospect of living longer, my generation is scared. I myself felt such fear when I turned sixty. How and where shall I grow old? We are haunted with the horror of ageing badly, with the fear of loneliness, with the fear of being no longer lovable, of becoming dependent, of losing the taste for living, of finishing our days in a home for old people.