The Winter of a Healthy Old Age

Orson Welles depicted here in the 1956 film version of Moby Dick

Old age is not always a portrait of decrepitude and a signal of imminent death. Ishmael’s description of Father Mapple in Herman Melville’s Moby Dick is in my mind the most celebratory depiction of “the winter of a healthy old age” – the possibility that one’s vitality may survive well into old age.

“Yes, it was the famous Father Mapple, so called by the whalemen, among whom he was a very great favorite. He had been a sailor and a harpooneer in his youth, but for many years past had dedicated his life to the ministry. At the time I now write of, Father Mapple was in the hardy winter of a healthy old age; that sort of old age which seems merging into a second flowering youth, for among all the fissures of his wrinkles, there shone certain mild gleams of a newly developing bloom- the spring verdure peeping forth even beneath February’s snow. No one having previously heard his history, could for the first time behold Father Mapple without the utmost interest, because there were certain engrafted clerical peculiarities about him, imputable to that adventurous maritime life he had led.”

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