The 1995 Summerfield Lecture (in our Festival of Literature) was given by Rabbi Julia Neuberger. She gave a masterly survey of "The moral state we're in", considering some of the life and death questions which Brtitish society faces - or doesn't face. Tonight, she returned to Cheltenham to speak at the University of Gloucestershire on one specific question, how we deal with ageing, and how we could do better.
Her talk, as 15 years ago, was a tour de force. "We are an ageing society, and live in an inherently ageist society," was her message. China, Japan, and even America have much to teach us: older people need to mount the barricades for civil liberties, as Raymond Tallis urges. Where are our Grey Panthers?
From ageing to dying requires an acceptance, if not an embrace. Instead, with this transition we enter into taboo territory. "We need to contemplate our mortality with a kind of equanimity."
But it was't all fine phrases. Julia's a practical soul, and throughout her lecture you could feel her (ageing) audience abuzz with "Yesss!". In introducing her, Vice-Chancellor Patricia Broadfoot was right to predict it would be "far more exciting than the Cheltenham Races."