Is there anything beautiful about old people? I’m not talking about senior citizens who have a few frown lines and some follicle issues. I’m referring to seriously OLD people, octo, nano, centenarians. Because, clearly they’ve lost any aesthetic appeal – their derrieres have hit the floor, their catcher’s mitt faces look like a drought-stricken watering hole, their idea of movement implies reptilian DNA of the turtle species’ realm.
But something about reaching that age appeals to our sense of romance. It’s like an old oak, or an antique photo, or the way something from your childhood makes you smile. It’s strange how we can become sentimental about something we’ve never known. It’s as though we respect them for surviving that long, because it gives us hope, that maybe, we too can push life’s limit. We stare into those furrowed faces, searching for some EKG spike that signifies life is present, and then stand awestruck when they part their lips to display a few remaining teeth below twinkling eyes.
Long lives inspire us the way children’s innocence inspires—the brutally honest comment about a breath mint running out or how Uncle Tony has a booger in his nose – we smile and try to recall days when we too could speak without consequence. But we don’t really remember them, just like we don’t know what it’s like to be one hundred years old – World Wars and ship travel and bowler hats. It’s hard for us to imagine life without airplanes and freeways, when mail journeyed by railroad or horseback, when television and computers and cell phones and electric cars and dishwashers and clothes-dryers and blah blah blah weren’t even ideas. We fail to understand the level of creativity we’ve lost as a culture – because people no longer ponder, or plop down on cloth sofas after home-cooked meals and talk about political issues or history or high school romances. We can’t imagine rising at 4:00am to harvest something for breakfast because we have things like microwaves and juice bars and bagel joints.
Old, crocodile-ish men with stooped shoulders, who still sport suspenders and smell like mothballs, move along city sidewalks and tilt their heads at neighbors in a way that suggests evolution may stop with Alzheimers. Shawl-covered women, with thinning blue hair and gaits that implies inflexible lives, clasp the crocodiles’ hands and focus upon the sidewalk cracks ahead of them. They are a silent movie thrust into a new millennium. For them, life just continues. For us, we become nostalgic. No, sentimental. No, that’s not right either. Yearn. Yes, we yearn for a time when life was so simple and we yearn for the difficulty of a life so far into the future.
So, yes, I guess there is something beautiful about old people. I just can’t seem to remember what it is.