I have been looking at a lot of old pictures lately. That’s what you have to do when you are helping put together a family book. It is tedious and at once quite emotional. It awakens your senses to a time long ago.
You can almost smell and taste the moment. Sometimes it makes you laugh. You know exactly who it is and where it was taken and why. Other times you draw a blank. It is staggering to realize that some images were taken way before my time. My children would say, “That’s really B.C.”
In my mind I think (and I don’t say that out loud because it’s too trite and true): “Where has the time gone?”
I suppose that at this point in my seniority, it is with a tired but genuine sense of wonder that I look back and say, is this for real? Have I traveled this far and for this long? To be quite honest, I don’t know if I should be more amused than amazed. All I know is I am grateful!
There is no book that tells you, step by step, how to grow old. There are countless studies and articles on geriatrics that talk about the care for people way past midlife. But it is easier to find cartoons and jokes about the quirky side in the life of a senior. There are many who think old folk are funny. I guess we are.
And yet the market is flooded with information to promote wellness with one thought in mind: to take you to this special, albeit difficult, stage of life, hopefully still in pretty good shape.
There are gurus for yoga, coaches for Pilates, herbalists and naturalists, spas with hot stone massages and havens for meditation to search for an inner force, a center, whatever. They want to help our bodies survive and our minds transcend the earth’s polluted atmosphere.
Thank heavens for all these well-meaning individuals whose goal it is to make people enjoy life and live to a ripe old age. Of course there are the naysayers who insist it is all a racket. Well if it is, bully for them. They have stumbled on a gold mine.
Where, when and who
I once met a woman up north who was over 90, her skin supple and taut, her eyes bright and watchful, no cataracts. She walked up and down the hills around her hut twice a day, every day, with a cigarro in her mouth. When she did the family laundry at the batis, she was careful to put the lit end of her cigar in her mouth. What was her secret?
Back to the pictures.
One thing I learned from this project is that we should label photographs with the where, when and who, and identify each one, as we used to do in the old society pages, “from left to right.” To put a note on a picture just saying “Lola” does not do anything for future generations.
In this era of selfies and “shoot and see” gadgets, we have the luxury of speed, copy, paste, edit and delete. You can Photoshop someone from a size 2X to a 10. You can brush her face and get rid of marks and blemishes, perhaps even add a beauty spot or dimple.
In our day, it was “as is, where is,” what you see is what you get.
Time ravages the human form. My father used to say, after a certain age, everything goes south. Also east and west, that’s for sure.
But growing old, they say, is a privilege not granted to many. So I embrace it.
I see a photograph from the ’50s. Is it I? Yes it is: at least 50 pounds lighter, with a jawline and only one chin. I’m wearing no makeup. Ouch!
A song comes to mind. “Look at that face, just look at it.” Not a wrinkle and not a line; eyes sparkling and full of dreams. What happened?
I will tell you what. Life happened.
I’ve known this person all my life. Let me tell you about her today.
That girl in the picture is gone. In her place stands one very fulfilled woman of age who would not trade places with anyone, never mind beauty or wealth or youth.
Her wrinkles are the marks of hearty laughter, scars from lonely tears; deep lines etched on her face are from squinting at the sun after living in the dark for so long.
I once heard a Latin actress say this: “I wear each wrinkle on my face like a medal of valor. It shows I have lived!”
The young girl had a faraway gaze. The woman she has become takes the time to look within. What she finds there gives her peace.
What about her dreams? Did they all come to pass? There were too many to count. You win some and you lose some. But you rejoice, regardless. There are no tears, no regrets.
How about the dreams that did not happen? That’s the time when, in the wisdom of heaven, angels stepped in and intervened. God is good.
Denzel Washington, one of my favorite actors of all time, was commencement speaker at Dillard University in New Orleans last week.
To the class of 2015, he said: “Don’t be afraid to fail.
“Don’t be afraid to dream big. But dreams without goals ultimately fuel disappointment. You must have goals.
“Do what you feel passionate about.
“Don’t just aspire to make a living. Aspire to make a difference.
“Put God first in everything you do. It has kept me humble. Everything I have is by the grace of God. Understand that—it is a gift!”