Chess players start the game with a rook in each corner of the board. It’s a powerful piece, but also a vulnerable one because it’s not as maneuverable as the others, a bit clumsy. If you’re a young man with three rooks, you’re very powerful and even more vulnerable and awkward. It’s a good image and says a lot—to a chess player, anyway.
George Bernard Shaw famously noted that youth is wasted on the young. Well guess what? Age is wasted on the aged. All that wisdom? Nah: Henry feels envy toward the young, for their fresh new sexuality, all that energy, all that guileless enthusiasm. When he was young he marked up his books and felt some heat for a writer that takes some youthful heat to come to terms with. Now…Boring. He’s old and tired and doesn’t have the energy.
I do know what he’s talking about, but I still declare that one’s fifties are way happier than one’s twenties. I know because I’ve been in both decades of a life and I’m happier now in my fifties than I was in my twenties. The twenties had some great moments, sure, especially as they were drawing to a close, but many of those years were confused, depressed, uncomprehending. Sad and lonely too. I’m not complaining. I also realized I was young. Rather than envying the young, which seems utterly pointless, although, okay, sometimes…but rather than being stuck in that mode, I do occasionally find the other one pokes its head up: I wish I could do it over again, knowing what I know now. Boy, would that be a triumph! This is based on a recognition of how stupid you were when you were young. Envy is based on knowing you’ve lost what you once had. Well: Give me wisdom and give me perspective, and the calm and control that attends experience. These young people are energetic and beautiful, but they don’t know all that much. It’s part of the condition. Envy that? I don’t think so.
I doubt B. is being psychologically comprehensive here. It’s another instance of his capturing and fixing one of those states that normally flit through our minds like patches of breezy sunlight on the forest floor. The only thing is this: He’s not healthy. That changes the paradigm a lot, and may just have tipped the speaker toward envy. He was dead at 57, too, so this business about being aged seems weird. Me, I’ll be 57 in two days and I’m still just getting started. And I promise, when I finally feel I can retire, I’m not jumping off any bridge. I’ll cultivate peace, not envy. Envy and jealousy are bad emotions. You can’t really deny feelings, but you do need to let them flow past. But that’s speaking from an arrogance of relative physical and mental health that is similar to the blasé arrogance of youth he declares he envies. He'd envy that too. Maybe I’ll go dancing in sandals and put a flower in my hair.