No Sense Aging Gracefully

by admin | October 17, 2013 8:49 pm

I saw a photo of myself the other day that a photography student shot as a group of pre-K children passed through soliciting money for St. Jude’s Hospital. They were cute tykes, all dressed alike in matching T-shirts. They had walked from the nearby Child Development Center. Several held cans with slits cut into the plastic lids. The children solemnly watched as I deposited two $1 bills in a pair of the cans.

The student showed me the photo on her digital camera. It wasn’t one we would use for the newspaper, me being the adviser. She just wanted me to see it. My first thought was, “Good grief, who is that old man with those cute little rug rats?” Then I realized I was that gray-haired, bewhiskered gent on the LCD screen of her camera. Perhaps it was the juxtaposition of youth and age that made me look even older than I generally view myself. At least that’s my story.

Not that I think much or often about my appearance. A quick look in the mirror each morning to make sure I have remembered to brush my hair before I leave for work usually suffices. I am resigned to this mug — its lines and sags, the hair that is either turning gray or turning loose. But a photograph is different somehow. It is a startling, more permanent reminder of the passage of time. Besides, who looks good under a bank of fluorescent lights?

I am more aware than ever of the seasons passing quickly — weeks and months flipping off the calendar as they did in old movies from the 1930s when directors used the technique to demonstrate the rapid passage of time. That’s how it feels to me these days, when suddenly Thanksgiving is just around the corner and soon stores will be playing Christmas songs. Seems like just the other day we were celebrating Easter.

Pinned on my office wall is a newspaper clipping from the last time I worked at Kilgore College for a single year as yearbook adviser and college photographer. The story announced that the yearbook had arrived and was ready for distribution. My predecessor found it while clearing the office and saved it for me. It included a photo of the editor and me holding a yearbook. The clipping is from May 1988. The editor would now be in her early 40s — several years older than I was at the time. As for me, well, a lot of miles have been traveled in that quarter-century.

I think often of my father, who died at age 76 — nearly five years ago — but whose life changed dramatically when he was only a few months older than I am now. My dad went from being a healthy, vigorous commercial artist to a near-invalid in a few weeks. He lived physically and mentally disabled for another 18 years, with constant care provided by my mother. Finally, both had to go into assisted living for the last several years of their lives. That weighs heavily on me, that I am nearly the same age my dad was when his useful life came to an end, the victim of a botched medical procedure. Life can change so quickly, a lesson we all learn eventually.

Still, we all soldier on, most of us buoyed by our faith, the love of our family, and the challenges of our work. Being around young people — whether it is our teen-age daughter and attending myriad events in which she participates or teaching college every day — helps keep me young at heart and agile of mind. I love listening to students talking about their interests, watching how adept they are at mastering a world of technology that I bumble through most days.

I hope they will listen to a markedly middle-aged guy with gray hair who has been around the block a few times, as I try to teach them the basics of the craft I love. And I hope they can teach me a few things as well, just as I learn from our daughter, too.

I just plan on staying out of photographs that make me look like a not-so-kindly old grandfather. I’m not ready for that AARP card yet, either, so I wish those folks would just leave me alone.

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