“Forty Portraits in Forty Years”
The New York Times Magazine recently published an article on the photojournalism project of Nicholas Nixon, “Forty Portraits in Forty Years,” in which he photographed four sisters every year since 1975. I discovered the project when my college classmate, Rosie Reardon, posted a link on Facebook (re-posted here). The collection of images is a moving pictorial journey documented over decades.
Aging is not an easy topic, especially in a society that fetishizes youth, and the photos brought up a lot for me, the good, the bad and the beautiful, because one can see that what the women in the photos lose in the smoothness of their skin they gain in something else – but what (or do they)? It’s probably different for each of us.
The photos inspired me to jot down a few thoughts, and I invite others to share their own reflections in the comments field. I’ve heard many wise, honest, often funny insights from the inspiring women (and men) in my life, and I’d love to open the closet and bring in a community of voices to shed some light on this topic.
* * *
In my teens and early twenties I could step into a perfect arabesque. In my fifties I can rock a chaturanga.
When I was twenty I was a size eight. Now, thirty years later and seven pounds heavier, I have somehow become a size four?
At twenty it was all, anxiously and excitedly before me, while at fifty I have much to fall back on and take courage from, while still hungering for what is to come. Over time I have witnessed so many ways a human life can falter, including my own. I have grown in caution and honed my fear. My sense of urgency is no greater than when I was twenty, no less laced with panic – how little time! – but there is ballast, now, reserves of experience, of triumphs and failures to rest on as I gather speed for the next leap. No amount of time makes me less amazed; that sky, those creatures – my children? But where did they come from to reside so miraculously in the world?
Every elation and sadness is etched on my face and body, the fine and not-so-fine lines, the scars, nicks and dings of tumbling into heartache or scraping up against joy. Life has, indeed, made its mark on me, as I have on the scratched screen of my cell phone and on the lives of those I have touched.
I see, now, not more, but perhaps more clearly, the ways in which I define, discover and create the person I want to be in the world through the choices I make moment by moment each day, something as simple as the words I choose to use, or what to say, or not. This doesn’t mean that I’m never angry or in despair, but as someone once told me, it’s okay. God can take it (feel free to replace God with whatever truth in which you abide). Somewhere along the way I stopped feeling lonely. This wasn’t something I ever expected, and I sometimes feel as if I could reach out and touch the beauty surrounding me in the very molecules of the air.
When I’m gone, folded back into cosmic dust, I know that my love will live on in those I have cared for truly and well, and I know, also, that it will never have been enough. There will always be so much more to do in this world, which is filled with an abundance more vast than my heart or arms, strong and capable as they have become, can contain.