Else Blangsted, “On Growing Old”, a poem by Peggy Freydberg
Otherwise at 96 with a poem on the strange land they call the land of old age
“Nothing terrible has happened to you yet,” she reads in her singular, Germanic voice. Otherwise Blangsted. A legendary music publisher and beloved on countless classic movies, as well as many horrible movies (and terrible TV shows too, early in her career), Else has become a great and brilliant friend. Today would have been his 101st birthday. She passed away last year in May 2020.
Else loved poetry – and often read one to me. It was the one she had recently discovered and read to me, gently complying with my request to film it. Even though it always seemed a little intrusive to ask, I’m glad I did now. There is Else. In her backyard of her house in Studio City, where we often had lunch.
Often times she would find a poem she wanted to share and always deliver them with a lot of emotion. Not for the theater, but because it was the truth. And Else celebrated the truth = – the deep, real truth – the truth that you don’t know at all or even understand until it’s part of your own life.
This one is from December 2016. It’s by Peggy Freydberg on Lonely, Surreal Achievements of Aging, but the way she read it and the language used made me think she wrote it in the beginning. It was delivered so directly, as if it was addressing my soul directly. The phrase “Nothing terrible has happened to you yet” struck me then, even though I didn’t know how true it would be. I had lost my father in 2014, which for me was very terrible. But not as bad as 2020 turned out to be, when I lost so many loved ones. Including Else. And then my own mom in December.
So hearing Else now – and seeing her in this video – her warm, smiley face so immediate and real – is powerful. Because of the way she smiles that smile of ages as she reads it, her joy in telling me, with poetry, the future she already knew.
On getting old
By Margaret Fredberg
I know that growing old is like finding yourself, surprisingly and disturbingly, in a country that is foreign to you. . .
Suddenly you realize that you are here, in a strange place, and that you will stay here, with no way to go back.
As you stand alone on this barren plain, your only shadow elongated and black on its late afternoon light, you realize that this new land is dark and lonely, with no reference to all you’ve ever had. known.
Nothing terrible has happened to you yet, just little things. But terrible things happen to others all the time and can happen to you too.
You are finally, of course, full of fear.
I tell myself that I need to see something in the mirror besides my crumpled veneer if I want to be calm; that I will have to come to terms with the loss of smooth skin, and find satisfaction in gaining something to take its place. Something, yes, that should have always been in me. Or something that has always been in me but never saw the light of day.
And so I stand in this open country where there are no familiar landmarks, and it suddenly occurs to me that, yes, this is the land of old age.
I am old. Also, I accept the reality, however humiliating it may be, that people will look at me and see that I am old.
It’s gone, that insane security, so happy as long as it lasted, to believe it couldn’t happen to me. Let’s go.