“Oh, I have seen enough and done enough and been places enough and livened my senses enough and dulled my senses enough and probed enough and laughed enough and wept more than most people would suspect.” This line, as long and plodding as a life gone wearisome, was recently uttered by screen legend Olivia de Havilland, now in her 90s. You may well think that, at her age, she had reason enough for saying as much; but Ms. de Havilland was not reminiscing about her own experiences in and beyond Hollywood. She was reciting the words of one of her most virile, dashing, and troubled contemporaries: Errol Flynn, who was born one hundred years ago, on 20 June 1909, and apparently had “enough” of it all before he turned fifty, a milestone he did not live to enjoy.
In her brief talk with BBC Radio 3’s Night Waves host Matthew Sweet, de Havilland talks candidly, yet ever so decorously, about her swash-buckled, devil-may-careworn co-star, about his temperament, his aspirations, his fears. Hers is an aged voice that has a tone of knowing in it. A mellow, benevolent voice that bespeaks understanding. A voice that comforts in its conveyance not of weariness but of awareness, a life well lived and not yet spent.
I could listen for hours to such a voice. I might not care for, learn from or morally improve by hearing what is said—but the timbre gives a meaning to “enough” that the forty-something Flynn never lived to express or have impressed upon him. It is the “enough” of serenity, the “enough” of gratitude, the “enough” of not asking for more and yet not asking less . . . or stop asking at all.
My own life is marked and marred by a certain lack of inquisitiveness, it sometimes strikes me. Being blasé is one of the first masks we don not to let on that we don’t know enough, that we know as much, but don’t know enough simply to ask. I wore such a mask of vainglory when I set out in life, the dullest of lives it seemed to me. My fellow employees had a nickname for me then. It was my moustache that inspired it. Errol Flynn they called me. Little did they know that, even at age 20, I felt that I had “enough” even though I so keenly felt that I had not had much of anything at all. I simply had enough of not even coming close to the glass of which I might one day have had my fill; but, for three long years, I did not have sense enough to leave that dulling life behind. No voice could talk me out of that barren existence but my own.
It was not easy for me to regain a sense of curiosity; it was as if the pores beneath the mask had been clogged after being concealed so long, my skin no longer alive to the breeze and its promises. I had brushed off more than I dared to absorb. One morning, I took a walk around Central Park with one of Errol Flynn’s leading ladies, and was neither startled nor thrilled; nor did I not seize the opportunity to inquire about her past or permit her to draw me into her presence as she offered me advice and assistance. Instead, I preserved the sound of her voice on the tape of my answering machine—like a butterfly beyond the magic of flight—her words saying that she had enough of me was dispensing of my humble services as her dog walker. I am left with canned breath, quite beyond the chance of living what might have been a great story.
Enough of my regrets. I can only hope that, when next I feel that I had “enough,” the word will sound as if it were uttered in what I shall henceforth refer to as a de Havilland sense, with dignity, insight and calm—and an acceptance that is not resignation.