Kiki recalled being invincible and truth-loving and twenty years old; remembered feeling exactly this: that if her family could only speak the truth, together they would emerge, weeping but clear-eyed into the light.
-Zadie Smith, On Beauty, p.60
In this sentence from Zadie Smith’s 2005 novel, Kiki, the mother of the family, is responding to the latest truth-telling assualt of her son, Jerome. I think it is a brilliant and wise insight into families and generations.
Does it ring true for you? At twenty, did you have the answers to your family’s problems? Did it all seem so clear? If only they could be more honest, fearless, authentic like you, then all their problems would disappear?
I think it was true of me. I think when I was twenty I believed more strongly in people’s ability to change and the absolute value of unflinching honesty. If only we could all tell exactly how we feel, instead of holding back.
Nine years later, I recognise the value of social niceties, of politeness, of treading carefully. My twenty-year old self looks through the decade in disgust. I don’t really care. He wasn’t all wrong, just too absolute.
Phil Wood said:
When I was twenty I didn’t bother with my family’s problems – just everybody else’s! By that time I had ‘escaped’ to college and a new life. I was 49 last Saturday and in-between feeling relieved that I wasn’t 50, did a little thinking about truthtelling and plain speaking. Gettting older certainly adds complexities to life. In those 49 years I’ve been married, divorced, depressed, delighted, hopeful, rueful, rebellious, compliant, orthodox and heretical. I am less sure of myself, more acutely aware of my own capacity for evasion. I am also more certain than ever that ‘truth in the inward parts’ is fundamental and lifegiving. We talk about ‘living a lie’ but really no-one ‘lives’ a lie. A ‘life’ based on deception is a half-life at best. So, I’m still ‘absolute’, just more forgiving.
Nathan Hobby said:
Happy birthday for the other day, Phil. I’m 29 next week and similar to you, am glad I’m not 30! I’m glad you’ve managed to stay absolute; being more forgiving is surely a good antidote to the excesses of a character like in this quote.