“Beautiful young people are accidents of nature, but beautiful old people are works of art.” -Eleanor Roosevelt
A Prayer for Old Age
God guard me from those thoughts men think
In the mind alone;
He that sings a lasting song
Thinks in a marrow-bone
“Wabi-sabi (侘寂?) represents a comprehensive Japanese world view or aesthetic centered on the acceptance of transience. The aesthetic is sometimes described as one of beauty that is “imperfect, impermanent, and incomplete”. It is a concept derived from the Buddhist teaching of the three marks of existence (三法印 sanbōin?), specifically impermanence (無常 mujō?), the other two being suffering (dukkha) and emptiness or absence of self-nature (sunyata). Characteristics of the wabi-sabi aesthetic include asymmetry, asperity (roughness or irregularity), simplicity, economy, austerity, modesty, intimacy and appreciation of the ingenuous integrity of natural objects and processes.” -Wikipedia (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wabi-sabi)
I moved to a new neighborhood three years ago. Soon after moving in, I went to the local grocery store one Tuesday to pick up a few staples. The young woman behind the counter asked me my age. “Why do you ask?,” I inquired. She kindly responded, “Well, Tuesday is senior citizen discount day.” She told me one must be 64 years old to receive the discount. I was 55 years old at the time, and was taken aback by how my age appeared to her. 2009 was a few years too early to be perceived in this way by someone in their twenties! I then remembered that, before thirty, my perception was like hers; age was a mystery, more acquainted with death than beauty. I did not fully recognize the person inside the aging body.
Here I am at 58 years old. I have had many painful losses and a fear of death all of my life. The world has it’s fill of turmoil, terror and loss. And still, my experience with aging and recent explorations into the meaning and value of beauty have had an unexpected side-effect. I do not want to take the privilege and beauty of aliveness for granted, or the aging process that comes with it. I find myself still grieving my losses, while also deeply appreciating the people I love, the beauty in age…and fearing death a little less.
Image: Marty, Then and Now © Robin Kappy 11/2011