Oct 7 2012

Judgment of Age vs Wisdom of Experience

I regularly receive emails from my octogenarian father. Because he lives thousands of miles away and the emails are at very least confirmation that the man I’ve adored my whole life is alive and well enough to sit at his computer, I forgive the sometimes inflammatory contents promulgating attitudes that I find ignorant and offensive.
And I’ve also grown to appreciate how alienating the world can become as one ages. Looking in the mirror in the full light of day with my glasses on — an inadvertent act that occurs when I absentmindedly visit the bathroom having neglected to remove my reading glasses — this doesn’t make me feel half as old as noticing my lips pursed in silent disapproval of some revealing new fashion trend or unobserved social convention.
Judgment accrued through aging is not necessarily the same as wisdom born of experience. I’ve noticed in some of my elders, even those I admire, a tendency to censure the new just because it differs from the way it always was. Critical assessment can sometimes happen too quickly, on the basis of relatively little evidence, from only one source. Evolving social mores, changing immigration patterns, foreign religious beliefs — especially when linked by daily news reports and provocative columnists to terrorist acts — can render benign institutions or individuals frightening and dangerous.
I understand this, because I’m occasionally guilty of it myself. But recognizing its pitfalls gives me pause. Because I also notice how unexamined responses can, left unchecked, make an insular world even smaller and more limited. I’m reminded of research I read in the 1990s about the impact of a TV diet heavy on home invasions, serial killers and rape victims. Senior citizens with restricted mobility often became convinced that their safe suburban or rural communities were as threatening as the gang-infested neighbourhoods of Miami or Detroit.
I don’t want to go — gently or otherwise — into that good night. So I appreciate that my life regularly exposes me to people and places, attitudes and experiences that force me to explore and challenge my expectations and assumptions.
In the meantime, I’m always delighted when one of my father’s forwarded emails contains a heartwarming story or gentle humour instead of a fear-inspired rant .
Like this one, for instance, which offered some relevant advice about aging:
Don’t worry about old age; it doesn’t last that long.
Good health is merely the slowest possible rate at which one can die.

May 29 2011

Making a case for laugh lines

Thank god I don’t travel in the same circles as Dominique Browning…

That was just one of the thoughts that occurred to me when reading her provocative and insightful piece, “The Case for Laugh Lines”, in today’s New York Times. Browning confessed that she’s often inclined to greet people she knows but barely recognizes by asking them who they are, as opposed to how they are. She claims that many of her acquaintances have erased the traces of identity, if not life, from their faces.

None of the people I see day-to-day appear to have engaged in serious Botox injections or collagen enhancements, let alone the more invasive skin tightening procedures apparently so prevalent in Hollywood, New York or Texas.

This is not to say that I can’t relate to the phenomenon Browning describes. I do know a couple of women whose faces have been so distorted by surgical interventions that I can no longer hear the words that come out of their mouths, so distracted am I by the damage to their ability to present authentically.

Browning cites an experience of watching a smart and passionate celebrity make the case for disarmament on TV, observing that the woman’s frozen-in-place face

…is grotesquely fascinating — and undermining. Before I know it, the interview is over. The medium overtook the message.

Diana Majury’s essay in I Feel Great About My Hands contains many insights, but one of these is especially relevant. Confessing her unhappiness with her own lines, she recounts how her boredom at a meeting one day led to a “wrinkle revelation” as she watched a similarly aged friend speak.

I looked at her lines and I loved them – they were signs of wisdom, life and learning; they were guides to her responses and emotions. They were entrancing. I stared at her for the rest of the meeting, interpreting its tone and outcome through the lines on my dear friend’s face. I enjoyed myself immensely and saw her, as I always have, as extremely beautiful.