Tuesday, July 28, 2009

And the Beat Goes On

I’m sure it was collective deja vu for most of us when the Michael Jackson death media coverage started. News stations were in a conundrum concerning which picture of Michael Jackson they should use for a graphic. Young Michael? Older Michael? Dark skin? Fair skin? Afro or silky straight hair? Before, during, or after plastic surgery? It reminded me so much of the controversy surrounding the creation of the Elvis Presley postage stamp. I think they even took a poll - would we rather see young, fit, dashing Elvis in jeans, or old, fat, Las Vegas Elvis in a rhinestone jumpsuit?

Which picture was the real Michael Jackson? Which picture was the real Elvis? Neither - and both.

There is not really a way to get a complete snapshot in time of anybody. In the instant it takes to press the camera button, our bodies are busy transforming - old cells dying, new cells regenerating, catabolism, digestion, repair. Each second the arteries get older and probably more sclerotic. Hair is falling out. Hair is growing. Cells are aging. Things like blood pressure, temperature, pulse, electrolytes, and hormones are constantly fluctuating from one second to the next to try to maintain homeostasis. It’s like the old joke: What time is it? 2 seconds past 3:15... no - 3 seconds...no - 4 seconds...make that 5 seconds... As soon as we try to freeze time, another second has passed and things are different. And today was tomorrow yesterday, and tomorrow will be today the next time we wake up in the morning. Past, present, and future are all blending in together roaring down in a waterfall and we can’t even tell them apart.

Our brain is involved, too, for every experience we have changes us in some way. While I was in Memphis last week, I couldn’t turn off an alarm in my niece’s bedroom where we were sleeping, so I just unplugged the clock (which was plugged into an electrical strip on the floor). As I was rising up, my upper arm hit the corner of her dresser top covered with a glass protector - and immediate pain was the result. I knew I would sport a lovely bruise by the next day (I did) which would last for several days (it is), and I remember thinking to myself, what did I expect, I’m such a klutz, why can’t I watch what I’m doing, etc. I changed that fast through that experience - One minute, I had no bruise, the next second, I had an injury and beginning bruise, and the next second, I was reminded yet again of how clumsy I am and how prone I am to injury. I realized before this that I was a klutz, but every time I demonstrate that fact, my brain sort of underlines it. Again and again. In a split second, I changed my physical, mental, and emotional landscape.

I got to walk down Memory Lane on this trip to Memphis - but Memory Lane has been primarily demolished and rebuilt. It’s true you can never “go home.” Old is replaced by new. Oh yeah, the Luau Restaurant used to be there. How long has it been gone? Let’s see, over 30 years, because our 35th wedding anniversary is next month, and eating at the Luau was one of the “to do” things on our honeymoon list and they closed it before we got around to it (that’s why we say we are on a perpetual honeymoon - we never finished the to-do list).

It’s not just buildings, of course. The people have changed. My mom is older and more feeble than when I saw her last. So are my aunt and uncle. My cousins and I stood around at a visit in my sister’s home last week, and no matter what came up in conversation, it was usually followed shortly by one of us exclaiming how old our parents - and we ourselves - had become. Where did the time go?

I look at pictures of myself through the years. Which is the real me? None of them - and all of them. One of the harder parts of aging is the realization - and acceptance - that we will never look that young or fit again. It’s easy to see that we have changed physically. But also emotionally, spiritually, mentally - and those things cannot be illustrated in a photograph. I think it’s true what they say - that, although the fat and wrinkles and gray hair, dimming eyesight and hearing, teeth problems, memory loss... wait, this is depressing... What I mean is that although the signs of aging are attributes we fight and curse, the wisdom gained in that exact same timeframe makes it all worthwhile. Even with some forgetfulness and “body adjustment problems” (klutzopathy), I feel a mental, spiritual, and emotional clarity at 54 that I never felt years ago. I feel by this time I have gained some insight into my priorities and the importance of forgiveness, patience, kindness, generosity in my life. Every encounter I have had so far in this life journey - whether it’s singing in an opera or listening to the cashier at the grocery store - has given its unique print on my life. The hurt I have given people has changed me, and the hurt others have given me has also changed me. Incredibly moving events have changed me. Things I hear on the news have changed me. Births, deaths, weddings, and divorces of friends and family have changed me. Old photographs document just a small portion of those changes. I may say that I’m not that 19-year-old in the wedding dress anymore, but I’m also not the 54-year-old smiling in the photograph with Mother and sister Joy this past Sunday, either; indeed, one second after that picture was taken, I had changed again.

So if you want to ever put me on a stamp, I don’t care which picture you use. It will be only a facsimile of the real me. (Thank goodness!)


MissEllen said...

Your posts would make lovely book. :)

Joy said...

You're lucky you didn't say anything about MY gray hair and wrinkles!