Thursday, February 21, 2013

Those pesky reminders

I'm a big Downton Abbey fan. The acting is superb, the costumes gorgeous, the setting is breathtaking.  With each episode I am pulled back into that time, that setting, and I feel as if I am really there.   Along with other viewers this week, I accidentally heard ahead of time that one of the major characters was slated to be killed in the finale, which was shown Sunday night in the United States.  Downton Abbey's season aired in Britain in the fall, and with the Internet and Facebook and every other impossible way of trying to keep secrets, I knew something bad would happen, to whom it would happen, and I was devastated.

Of course, the information age being what it is, I learned why:  The actor who played this character did not renew his contract, as he is involved in other projects and wanted to be free of this particular commitment.

I understand that completely, as I also understand I am watching basically a well-acted, well-produced soap opera - a fictional rendition.  Yet, when I am in the process of watching, I am transported to that place and that story.  I really forget these are actors and sets and scripts.  The idea that this actor didn't renew his contract, and therefore the writer had to come up with a fatal accident, was just a sad reminder that these are, yes, just actors and sets and scripts.  I hate bring brought down to earth.  It was just a reminder of reality - reality that I already knew but could escape from for those few hours.  What?!  These people are really actors on a set?  I could swear they are real!

I am reminded of Christopher Reeve, the actor who rose to fame playing Superman.  After his tragic accident which left him paralyzed, he had dreams where he was running and jumping and moving, and then he would wake up and realize it was just a dream, that reality was very different.  A very ugly reminder of reality.

I have dreams, too, where I am 18 again, young, firm muscles, long hair, no wrinkles, all possibilities lying ahead.  Then I wake up  - with thankfully not as much a downward crash as Mr. Reeve -  in my 58-year-old body, time ticking away on my life, and feeling somewhat disappointed in the dramatic contrast in my dream and my present state, and I renew that sense of urgency on how to get accomplished what I want to do in the time I have left.  Every creak, every huff and puff, every gray hair, every mirror, is just an annoying reminder of the reality of growing older every day.

Some reminders, of course, are heartwarming.  I see a picture of my baby Emily on Facebook and talk to the older children on the phone and I am brought back to the miraculous reality that I have four amazing grandchildren from my own amazing kids.  Every day I am reminded that I have a job that challenges me and makes me feel productive. I was reminded when I found a penny in an unlikely place with the year of my dad's death on it that I have had parents who have loved and supported me unconditionally.   I was reminded when I got up and saw certain items arranged on the kitchen counter that before he went to bed last night, my sweet husband thought of what I needed to prepare my breakfast this morning.  I am grateful for the reminders of family and friends and situations that make me smile, that make my heart sing.

So I'm not upset with the Downton Abbey writers and actors, as some fans have been.   I will miss the character, but things happen in fiction and in real life and we go with the flow.  The only thing that disturbs me is that the situation gave me an unwelcome dose of reality, took a little more of the magic of my losing myself in the show, and just reminded me that, hey, I'm actually watching a soap opera!  So be it.  It's a grand, majestic, splendid soap opera and I can't wait to see what happens next.  My hope is that I can wake up here in this present 58-year-old body and hold aloft the same positive, expectant attitude towards my own personal journey... Here I go, still seeking and creating and mourning and celebrating in this, my very own reality show - and I can't wait to see what happens next!

Friday, February 15, 2013

Watch me grow old!

Having a profile on Facebook using my full name (including maiden name) as well as this blog with my full name, and recent photos of me on both, I have been the object of a few private friends who wonder why I am so easy to find on the Internet and why on earth I am showing what I look like as I age.   (I have a cousin who refuses to be accessible anywhere on the Internet!)  In spite of real concerns like identity theft, which has been successful on much less public information, this is the way I have chosen to present myself to the world.

I have approached aging in one way:  Gradually.  For instance, you will always see a current photo of me on Facebook and on this blog.  Every Christmas we take a family picture and it's not just of the kids, either - Ed and I are in it every year.  Why do I do this?  Why do I have the guts, as someone once said, to put my aging self out there for all to see?  Why not give people from my past the pleasure of remembering me as I once was?

Well, surprisingly, it's a selfish motive.  I don't want someone who knew me years ago to come across me or a recent picture of me and think, OMG she's gotten so old!  If they have had access to my aging self, it won't be such a shock.

Several observations back me up on this one.  Take our kids.  We see them every day as they are growing up, and their growing is so gradual that we hardly notice until they are ready for a new size of clothes or until we compare their school pictures from year to year.  But what happens when relatives see them after a long absence?  "Oh, how you've grown!"  Parents and out-of-town relatives in this case are observing the same exact kids.  But the delayed experience of watching them grow day by day is counterbalanced by the shock of someone else first seeing them after several years of not seeing them.   I expect folks to be happy to see me (some, at least!), or maybe nervous about seeing me (some, probably!), or even just curious to see me - but I don't want them to be shocked.   Not a good thing.

Think of the celebrities we have seen age gradually, and those we haven't.  Consider Sally Field.  If she had enjoyed her time in the limelight as Gidget or the Flying Nun back in her youth, then retired from the public scene, and years later PBS wanted to produce a documentary about TV shows from that period and grabbed her out of retirement to be interviewed - we would be disconcerted to see all of a sudden an old Sally Field, and it would be as if she had aged 48 years immediately.    But Sally Field did not retire; she kept her face in front of the camera for other movies, for other TV shows, for commercials, and in fact I just enjoyed seeing her in Lincoln.  We saw her age gradually and beautifully.  Maggie Smith is another one who stayed in the public arena for decades.

Now to the first question:  Why am I so easy to find online?  I have had the occasion to try to find people from my past, such as my good friend Annie, and let me tell you, even with all the information out there, it is very difficult sometimes - especially if you are looking for a female who might have changed her name several times with marriages and/or divorces.  I was fortunate to eventually find her, but I decided early on to just put myself out there and let the chips fall where they may.  I would love, for instance, to see what some folks from my high school look like these days, but pictures are hard to find.  I can even look on Facebook and still not be certain that that is the person I'm trying to locate.   Probably the main reason we feel the need to look up people from our past is simple curiosity - but in addition, there are shared memories, of course.  The older we get, the more important those memories are.

The only thing my graduating class and I have in common is that we went to the same high school - but that encompasses a lot.  We shared the same teachers, were exposed to the same education, remember the same assemblies, the funny things, the sad things, the frustrating things that we encountered.  Most of us lived within a certain radius of the school.  We were all about the same age.  Taken in a broader context, we shared the same society as we grew up - the things going on in politics, in movies and music, hairstyles and clothing.   We share a common bond.  I didn't have a particularly pleasant high school experience, but I grew up with a lot of intriguing classmates, many of whom are sadly now dead.   Every year some more of those shared memories get lost as the survivors get fewer.  I will always wonder what some of them did with their lives.

So that is why I'm "out there."  If anyone wanted to find me, here I am.  I'm easy to google.  This is what I look like, if you're curious.  These are my interests.  These are my life experiences, my response to growing older, tales of my wonderful family, stories of being a minister's wife, packing up and moving from Tennessee to Maine - the whole caboodle.   Now if I ever get to go to one of my high school reunions, maybe, just maybe, there will be someone there who is not shocked to see me.  And that is a good thing.