Monday, September 26, 2011

Becoming Invisible


When I was seventeen, adults belonged behind the bench, gavel in hand, a white wig masking their graying, thinning heads of hair, frown lines deeply etched upon their foreheads.

At twenty-seven, I pitied adults. Surely they had never experienced the ambition, the drive, the angst, and hungers of my generation. They were stodgy, incurious creatures.

When I celebrated thirty-seven years, I began to suspect that I had been suffering from a prolonged case of plain, ordinary vanity. I began to question the arrogance of youth, ashamed of willful behaviors.

At forty-seven, humility took root, and I tried to warn the next generations about the hazards of self-absorption. They ignored me.

At fifty-seven, lightning cracked open my brain. I realized that youth dismisses, discounts, and dodges aging and those who have aged because they must deny, as if borne of biological necessity, the fact of their own mortality. Adults are the ground into which they must fall, but bringing this truth into the light requires some hesitation. Acknowledging this truth may even destroy hope. So youth denies, avoids, and obfuscates.

As I grow into my sixties, I must admit that I am growing thinner, fading into invisibility. A young twenty-something scoffed when my husband shared with her something he knows well, works with daily. In disbelief, she asked why she should believe “old people.”  As I share my insights and stories, younger listeners simply forebear, nodding and sighing. My tales are of a time deemed irrelevant because youth believes it is the center of the universe, that it is experiencing love and hate, lust and tenderness, parenting and grief for the first time in the history of the world. Youth is a sun around which planets rotate, Age among them, but like Pluto, its place in the scheme of things is suspect.

How much worse it must be to be eighty-two, afflicted with Alzheimer’s. How weary my mother must be of being told what to do, the order in which to do it, what to eat, the reason for those food groups, and how to take care of herself and her home. How frustrating it must be to have been in command, to suffer the illusion of directing one’s own life, to take charge of creating one’s own happiness, only to lose all abilities to command the present, remember the past, and shape the future.

May I remain humble, visible, and relevant—please, and may I grant my mother at least as much relevance, visibility, dignity and respect as I ask for myself.