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Photographs as memories: Haugh About That?

Staring at the face tagged on my Facebook page, I bolted out of the chair like a missile exploding from an abandoned silo. I ran straight for the bathroom mirror, praying that it wasn’t so. Pulling back the folds and wrinkles that had somehow magically appeared overnight, I shrieked, horrified, “When did you become a crone?”

Not long ago, I was 55, experiencing the prime of my life. All of my body parts functioned, my hair cooperated after each cut and my pants zipped up with ease.

The aging process had definitely begun, but the train hadn’t run off the track. Growing old, in my mind, would be a breeze, because each step so far had brought only minute changes.

Then I saw my image on the computer and realized that the train was full speed ahead.

At one point, I loved having my picture taken. With each new Kodak moment, a happy memory was captured for posterity, then strategically taped to the refrigerator door. Now at 61, I see a camera and run in the opposite direction. I know that it’s my vanity’s demonic side holding me down and that I shouldn’t be so shallow. After all, the aging process happens to all of us, I just wasn’t prepared for it to be quite this soon. In my mind, 80 would be soon enough.

Luckily, as in other moments of ego overload, the universe set in motion a revelation that not only put me in my place, but also screamed, “What’s wrong with you?”

I was gathering memorabilia for a family album of my children’s lineage, with photographs from their great grandparents to the current family. Sorting through the ones of our ancestors, it was understandable why there had only been a few. Photography was complicated at the turn of the century, and photo ops were rare. When I couldn’t find many of my own mother after the age of 62, it occurred to me that she also hated seeing herself in print. Crestfallen, I had nothing visual to remember her by as she grew older.

My entire life, I thought that my mom was the most beautiful creature God ever created, even more so in her final years. Despite the fact that her body was cursed, shrouded in excruciating pain, she walked in grace and dignity, constantly drawing in a crowd with her infectious sense of humor. I never noticed those wrinkles she loathed. I only saw a face that made everyone she smiled at feel special with her unconditional love.

Like her daughter, my mother also struggled with losing her youth. Aging gracefully not only takes acceptance, but also a sheer force of will power to embrace it, because we live in a society that worships youth as the media suffocate the mind with how to freeze-frame our natural evolution. It’s time we 60-plusers say, “No more!”

Kids, bring on the cameras and the iPhones – I’m ready for my close-up. I promise that I won’t run away, turn my back or hide in a closet. Out of the 100 you shoot, I’m sure that there will be at least one I find acceptable. And for the ones that aren’t so lucky, there’s a magical little button labeled “delete” that will put them in their proper place.

My children are going to have pictures that go along with their memories of our time together. No matter what age I become, I want them to remember this delightful journey our souls have traveled on, and that in that space in time, there was a woman, young and old, who loved them with all her heart.

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