Can We Find Beauty in Growing Old?

It came out of the blue, like a punch to the gut this Thanksgiving, or maybe not so much out of the blue. The elephant had hung large and grey all day: caring for our mother.

In comparing conflicting schedules with my sister for the upcoming week – she was busy, I was busy, she said to me as I was packing up the car: “If it weren’t for me, Momma wouldn’t be here.”

Wow – sucker punch there. Below the belt don’t you think? Took my breath away – I didn’t even know how to respond.

All day yesterday it plagued me. It sat lodged in my belly and I couldn’t free myself from it.

My first impulse was self righteousness: We only get one life. This is mine. I get to choose how I live it. I will not be my mother’s caretaker. The hell with what roles society wants to inflict on us. But if my sister wants to be the martyr – that is her business.

Then it swung the other way – I was selfish. She was my mother. Of course it wasn’t fair that my sister carry the majority of the load.   How could I not be the loving generous daughter I should be? By the way, my mother is a good mother. Why couldn’t I make a little more time?

But as much as I loved my mother, I couldn’t get around the feeling that she was a duty, an obligation. A time card checked in, checked out. Between meetings, or other things I would come over, get her dressed, feed her, give her pills. Sometimes we went out, sometimes we did art, on occasion a movie or a museum. All too often I was checking my emails, my texts, for the things that were more important.

This is indeed an ugly thing to admit.

So yesterday, I vacillated between the stories. What was my truth, what was society?   I acknowledged that the issue runs deeper than ‘time.’ I know I have a deep fear of feeling trapped in situations like this and so when they come up I run for the hills.

But why could I not find the place where I wanted to be with her instead of having to be with her? I know it is only a matter of time before the choice is no longer  mine.

I kept writing, and circling, and writing – asking for some insight, some way through the murkiness of all of this.

And then I saw it… It was not in the stories. It was in the perception. What if I changed the lens through which I viewed her?

the-wrinkled-story-2-pooja-rohraWhat if I saw my mother as a work of art? What if I could look at her with different eyes? What if this great drive of mine to create could be used to explore the beauty that is her growing old?

Instead of running from it, avoiding it, pretending it was not barreling down the road at us, I could face her aging through the lens of art.

The shift was profound – a great softening of my heart. A renewed sense of hope – that I could re-discover her, not as she was, but as she is. That she and I could capture in photos, on video, in song, the uniqueness, the beauty that is her body, her soul, transforming.

Of course I realize as I write this, that I am staring at myself in the mirror. This destination awaits all of us. And in seeking the beauty in her aging, I am seeking the beauty in mine.

So in these days post thanksgiving – I find that I am grateful for so many things: For the woman that is my mother, and the one that is my sister. For the comment, that though hard to hear, revealed new possibilities. And for the magic that is art, which allows us to see the beauty in all of life’s facets.


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