On the Value of Wrinkles
Jon Katz’ portrait of the poet Mary Kellogg on Bedlamfarm.com today struck a deep chord in me. I don’t know if it is because I grew up with a mother that was much older than my friends’ parents, or that all of my aunts and uncles were older, but I have always had a strong affinity and tenderness for the elderly. After getting to know and love my Wayward Seniors, I thought that if I’d ever gone into a different career (other than my childhood love affair with becoming a veterinarian- until we had to put the family dog down), it would have been working with the elderly in some capacity. In a youth-obsessed culture, the elderly are often discounted, and with all they have to offer, that is a real travesty.
When I look into faces wrinkled with wisdom, with life, I feel drawn to their stories. It is fascinating to talk with seniors, to really listen to them and see how time and experience have shaped their perspectives. I remember once talking to a senior at a nursing home where my mother went to visit a dear friend. As we talked, she revealed that she had been a college music teacher and told me about her adventures traveling the world. That conversation shifted the way I thought about seniors – they were not just what I saw physically- they were people just like me who had loved and lost, had been teachers, lawyers, artists, musicians, in the military. They had years and years of life experience to share. Some give in to age, and some make age do their bidding until their dying breath. There is much to learn from them- not only in how to age, but also in how to live.
I have been fortunate to have amazing seniors in my life, and I am thankful that my mother taught me from my earliest memories to respect them and to listen to them. Since Mom passed, I often look in the mirror at my own wrinkles that are becoming more and more prominent and wonder if I will look like her, if I will have the same zest for life. I think of my mother-in-law who at ninety-two was still acting and attending every symphony concert and play in town, was swimming at the Y the day before she died while sitting in the lobby waiting for her ride to the theater. She lived every moment of her life fully, even though she was legally blind from macular degeneration. I think of my own mother, who fought to the end to be independent, who kept her sense of humor and found a way to help others until she no longer could. I think of my clarinet mentor, who composed and taught up until the day he died at the age of ninety. They are all wonderful role models for me; even as their bodies began to fade, their essence, who they truly were inside, never aged…their wisdom and what they had to offer the world only deepened.
When I look at faces like the beautiful Mary Kellogg’s or at photos of my mother in her later years, I no longer just see wrinkles and white hair, and I never see weakness or burden. Instead, I see courage, determination, and strength. It is easy to be beautiful on the outside when you are young, but to own the beauty of wrinkles, to recognize the value of life experience and to share it with others, living fully to your dying breath- that is true, ageless, beauty, and I can only hope that I will grow to be worthy of my own wrinkles.