“Autumn wins you best by this its mute appeal to sympathy for its decay.” ― Robert Browning
Last week’s Photo Challenge was all about Autumn color, the beautiful garb of aging, death and decay. How appropriate that Tina chooses for this week’s challenge the idea of how dilapidated, vintage, older things that have “seen better days” capture the photographer’s eye as things of loveliness and interest.
“The love of old things is a way of respecting time.”
― Wu Ming-Yi
“Of all the footprints, that of the elephant is supreme. Similarly, of all mindfulness meditation, that on death is supreme.”
― Gautama Buddha
The more I study the beauty of aging and death, the more I am drawn into the transformation of cells and matter. Consider that Life is marked by change, that change is the continuation of Life in new forms. Below is a photo of a petrified tree stump in the Flourissant Fossil Beds National Monument in Colorado, illustrating the change from vegetable into mineral.
Is it any wonder we photographers are fascinated by the visual evidence of the dance of Life and Time? As humans, we are definitely a part of this process. As humans, we take our experience and create Art to celebrate it.
Ann-Christine shares a bit of the fascinating history of Swedish temperance and photos of an old distillery in her challenge post.
The passage of time lends a special beauty to objects of human craft. It puts us in our place – we are but a part of the march of evolution and the expansion and collapse of the Universe. What we create and what we are in this form will not last forever. And that’s a powerful reality.
At this point in my life, I am Over the Hill for sure. The sun is setting – how rapidly is anyone’s guess. Anticipating the unknown sounds like an exercise in futility. Any build-up is likely to increase anxiety. I think what is more important is simply practicing being the character I want to be. I am not on a quest to challenge my mortality, but to be at peace. I am looking forward to moving to a more rural part of the state in a month, on 56 acres of restored prairie that’s owned by the Conservation Foundation where I work. My quest will allow me to spend more time in Nature and more quiet time writing. We’ll see how rapidly that sunset arrives. I’m not looking to jump on any fast trains to get there.
Do you remember when your baby teeth fell out? Do you have any memories of being without central incisors, lisping and whistling when you spoke, unable to bite into an apple or an ear of corn? How much do you remember of the physical changes associated with your passage through puberty?
Would you ever choose to re-live those changes? (I imagine in response a loud chorus of ‘Noooo!’ and laughter.)
Why do we find change so awkward and uncomfortable? Why do we imagine a state of perfection achieved and unchanged, and why is that stasis desired? Consider this: change is natural; metamorphoses are observed and documented in every species — birth, maturation, reproduction, aging, death, decay, absorption, and birth. All around us there is a process of movement, going from one thing to another, losing some properties and gaining others. This is Life. It is dynamic; it is not good or bad; it is. Often, however, we decide we like where we are. We want to stay put. It’s familiar. It’s comfortable. But we are, in fact, stuck, and it takes a great deal of energy to stay there, resisting the current of Life all around. We feel drained, exhausted, spent, sapped, worn out. We want to feel the flow of energy again, but in order to do that, we must make a change. Fear holds us back. This is a pivotal point of decision – we must choose Change to choose Life.
The Old Testament talks about having youth renewed like the eagles’, about mounting up with wings as eagles and being borne on the wings of an eagle. Golden eagles populated the Holy Land, and their lifespans were observable to the ancient poets. I have seen bald eagles in the wild on a few occasions now, but not before I was 45 years old. What do I know of an eagle’s life? I did a little research. Southwestern Bald Eagle Management told me “In their five year development to adulthood, bald eagles go through one of the most varied plumage changes of any North American bird. During its first four weeks of life, an eaglet’s fluffy white down changes to a gray wooly down. At about five weeks, brown and black feathers begin to grow. It becomes fully feathered at 10 weeks of age. In its first year, the mostly dark-colored juvenile can often be mistaken as a golden eagle. However, the bald eagle progressively changes until it reaches adult plumage at five years. Notice in the pictures how its dark eye lightens throughout its first four years of life until it becomes yellow. Also, see how its beak changes from gray-black to a vibrant yellow. It is believed that the darker, more mottled plumage of a young eagle serves as camouflage, while the white head and tail announce that it is of breeding age.”
Renewal is for the purpose of maturity. It is not about going back to a juvenile state. It is about soaring with the movement of Life toward the next place of energy. It is not about resuscitation; it is about resurrection. We shall all be changed.
My daughter recommended to me a book titled Being Mortal by Atul Gawande. The author is a medical doctor and a gerontologist. He tackles the real and practical implications of growing old and dying in this culture: nursing homes, DNR orders and advance directives, heroic life-saving surgeries, hospice and what it is to live with meaning and dignity. This book terrified me. I read it in small doses. It made me face denial and delusions head on. It was not a comfortable read, but I would recommend it to anyone. It puts Change in the forefront and invites you to get real. I would not have been able to read it 7 years ago, right after my husband died. I wasn’t ready. The book I read then that helped me to accept change was Pema Chodron’s book When Things Fall Apart (which I recently discovered is a phrase from Yeats’ poem “The Second Coming”).
Where are you in the flow of Life? Where are you stuck? What are you afraid of when you face Change? How have you embraced Maturity? How have you run from it? What images of Peace in harmony with Change are meaningful to you? These may be your symbols of Renewal. Here are a few of mine:
This article is featured in the blog magazine The ‘B’ Zine. Please click on the Zine link to view the rest of the Renewal volume and support my Into the Bardo & Beguine Again colleagues!
“My sainted mother” (as Gene Kelly used to say of his) is turning 80 on New Year’s Eve. She is a couple of thousand miles away in California; I am living in Milwaukee missing the sunshine of her warm personality. How shall I celebrate her life from this distance? I came upon an idea: post a blog entry every day from Christmas Eve through New Year’s Eve containing 10 things I appreciate about her. By her birthday, she will have read 80 reasons that I am so grateful for her long life.
I have decided to start out with “10 Background Bits”, pieces of factual information to set the stage for her “close up”. First, there is a family history for this kind of project. When my father turned 60, I presented him with a little typed booklet entitled “60 Memories of My Father”. The cover was made out of construction paper. It looked a bit like a school assignment for a 3rd grader, I admit. But it was made with love. My father ended up writing his own memoirs 8 years later in response to interview questions I sent him. 2 years after that, he began his mysterious journey into dementia and Alzheimer’s. For my mother’s 70th birthday, I wrote “!70 Foods 70!”, an anthology of food memories with pictures. (She is a fabulous gourmet cook.) My mother keeps that in a binder, each page engulfed in a separate plastic sheath. It looks a lot more professional than my first attempt. (She is also a museum archivist.) So this birthday project is one of a much-beloved series that has enriched me in the recollection and writing of it and, hopefully, enriched my parents in the receiving.
2) Time: Anne Louise was born December 31, 1934 – a blessed little tax deduction for her folks that year and their first child. My kids now know her as “Granne Louise”.
3) Place: Fair Lawn, New Jersey.
4) Mother: Marion Keeffe McFarland. A tiny spitfire of a personality, ambitious and shrewd, a capable survivor with a twinkle in her step. My mother and I both wore her long bridal veil when we were married. The secret she carried to her grave: she never got beyond the 8th grade in school.
5) Father: David Elmer McFarland, Jr. He was an electrical engineer with Public Service of New Jersey. His stateside responsibilities kept him home during WWII, keeping the power running, managing 5 Victory Gardens, and being husband and father. My mother adored her father: he was the calming antidote to her mother’s small furies and mini dramas, a grounding presence with a refreshing sense of humor. I think I heard once that he played the piano at a nickelodeon… I believe it, anyway.
6) Her younger sister, Sandy. Actually, her name is Marion like her mother, but her nickname distinguishes her. Her blonde hair, petite frame and bubbly personality came back to my mother’s mind often when I was in her view, since I was the only blonde and the youngest of her 4 daughters. Sandy was much like her mother: tiny and very social. My mother was more like her father: lanky and cerebral.
7) My mother’s natural strengths: precocious and enduring intelligence, musical talent, organization.
8) Her natural weakness: her eyes. She was finally diagnosed with myopia and ambliopia at age 5, and wore an eye patch and glasses. Her walleye makes for poor depth perception, but it gives her the peripheral vision that kept me from sneaking anything past her…ever.
9) Growing up: my mother’s stories of growing up sound to me like echoes from an early TV sitcom — pin-setting at the bowling alley for a penny a pin to earn spending money, which was then spent at the movies, often for a double feature; learning to drive on a dirt road around the town’s water tower with her boyfriend, Duff; keeping statistics for the school baseball team and flirting with the players; trips to New York City every year, where her Aunt would buy her a new coat. Happy days, it would seem.
10) Becoming an adult: because she skipped a year of school and her birthday’s so late in the year, my mother headed off to college at the tender age of 16. And not just any college — Radcliffe College. Her mother had two goals for her: either meet a rich man and marry, or get a first rate education so that you can support yourself. My mother got both the man and the education. She graduated in May of 1955, earning a B. A. in English with her thesis on Jane Austen. She married George William Heigho (Harvard ’55) in September that same year.
For a writing class 3 years ago, I was prompted to write my parents’ wedding announcement. Mom, always a sharp editor, made sure I got it right:
Anne Louise McFarland and George William Heigho II were married September 3, 1955 at All Saints’ Episcopal Church in Glen Rock, New Jersey. The bride is a graduate of Radcliffe College, and the groom is a Harvard graduate. The couple met at the Canterbury Club on campus during their sophomore year. Mrs. Heigho is the daughter of Marion Keeffe and David Elmer McFarland, Jr. of Fair Lawn, New Jersey. Her father is an electrical engineer with Public Service of New Jersey. The groom is the son of Dorothy Lauver and William Stephens Heigho of Detroit, Michigan. His grandfather, George William Heigho I, was the president and CEO of Calvert Lithographing company. The couple will be sailing to England on the Nieuw Amsterdam for their honeymoon, returning in a month to their new home in Boston. Mr. Heigho will then begin work with IBM.”
This portion of the birthday project also serves as a traditional Christmas Eve ghost story. The spirits of my Grandpa, Grandma, and father are affectionately internalized in my mother now. I’m sure she holds many more as well – notably (to me) my sister and my husband. The lives of friends, family, entertainers, neighbors, writers, thinkers and even fictional characters seem to animate her with exuberant ideas of connection. Conversation with her is peppered with the anecdotes of a host of souls.
Tomorrow is Christmas Day, and that chapter of 80 Years in 8 Days is dedicated to “10 Family Foods”. My mother’s table is the holiday feast I dream of every year. While visions of it dance in my head, I wish you, Mom, and dear readers, a Good Night.
Back in August, I did a blog post about Steve’s childhood home and his mom’s move out. You can see that post here. At the beginning of September, I traveled back to California to see my mother’s new digs and how my brother has renovated the old homestead and made it his own. Our mothers are only 3 weeks apart in age, both are turning 80 this December. This seems to be a rite of passage – relinquishing home ownership and the mental and physical effort it requires. I’m happy to say that both our moms have found communities of vitality and interest and that they are enjoying new friendships, new activities, and comfortable surroundings. Here’s a photo gallery of the Los Gatos trip (mostly for the edification of my kids who haven’t been there in a while).
If you ask around, you may find that families sometimes have uncanny clusters of birthdays. For my family, that cluster occurs in August. Both my maternal grandparents had their birthdays in August, although I don’t remember the exact days. My brother’s birthday is today; mine is on Thursday. My brother-in-law John’s is the 25th; Steve’s brother-in-law Dan’s is the 22nd. My husband Jim’s birthday was August 26. What could be the reason for all these babies being born this week?
Gotta be Thanksgiving. We are the product of grateful coupling, I suppose — cold nights and tryptophan relaxation. Why not? The harvest is in. Be fruitful and make babies.
As a child, my end-of-the-summer birthday precluded school parties and peer recognition. I was content with family gatherings that included spare ribs, corn-on-the-cob and chocolate cake (my frequently requested birthday dinner). My children introduced new birthday traditions, like Hoops & Yo-yo cards…
and this hysterical Birthday song by the Arrogant Worms (click to see youtube version w/lyrics) often sung over the phone by my oldest, Susan.
Lately, I’ve been giving myself year-end treats. I started this blog to mark my 50th year. The next year, I bought myself a digital camera to replace the Canon AE-1 that my husband had given me 33 years earlier. This year, I bought plane tickets for me & Steve to travel to California to visit my mother, my siblings, the family grave site (where my sister, my husband and my dad are buried), giant redwoods, tide pools, pinnacles and a winery. I am looking forward to unwrapping that gift slowly over 6 days. I want to savor it as much as I can.
Today, though, I’m wishing my brother a happy birthday! He was a gift brought home from the hospital on my 11th birthday. He helped me grow up in a million ways — first by taking my place as the baby. As adults, we’ve always had miles and miles between us keeping us apart. I’m hoping that when that distance is bridged, we’ll find much to connect us again.
Reblogging from two years ago is not as synchronous as I thought it might be. Two years ago, the fourth of December was a Sunday, and my post was very Sunday-related and had little to do with the Advent gift of the day, which I designated Soil. So, I went looking for another post from that year. Luckily, I found one. My parade of gifts from the Universe has featured Sun, Air, Water and now Soil. The four elements of our natural world, if you will. Here’s the post:
As Time Goes By
My daughter is a certified massage therapist. This makes visiting her an extra special occasion. Not only do I get the pleasure of her company and hospitality, I get a 2 hour massage as well. As I lay there thinking about my body, my cells, and the amazing things going on just under my skin, it occurred to me that the whole process that I call my biological life began exactly half a century ago. Yup, I figure I was conceived Thanksgiving weekend, as my parents celebrated with joy their gratitude for life. Not that they ever divulged so private a story to me, mind you.
I marvel at how life is sustained over time. I mentioned this to my kids as I was sipping my post-therapy water. My youngest piped up, “Yeah, well, half a century is nothing when you think about how mountains grow and change.” Touche. I have to get better at taking a longer view, getting a bigger perspective. I look at my kids bustling around in the kitchen preparing food together, all grown up, and a second later, they are playing a patty-cake game from their childhood.
We are all still so young on this earth; we are such a blink. What kind of impact will we have on the bigger picture? What will be the most lasting legacy of this family whom I love so intensely? The trees that we’ve planted? The children we beget? The words we pen? The votes we cast? The ashes we give back to the soil? I can’t say for sure. It could be the love that we circulate, although it would be impossible to document. I am just grateful to have been a part of it, a crinoid in the limestone, among thousands of others.