At a party recently I met a lovely woman who did not want to be photographed. Gesturing with her hand to her face and body, she said: You don’t know what this used to be because you didn’t know me; but I know. I remember being young and pretty.
She reminded me, this woman, of a friend, a charming genius of a man, who loves to cook and talk science and politics. I’ve called him every year on his birthday, even though the calls have met a grumpy reply for more than a decade (“Why does everyone want to remind me that I’m fucking old?“).
On his 80th birthday he relented and allowed for a small (just 10 of us) dinner gathering to celebrate. After a toast in his honor, he said: You know, I used to be a pretty good-looking guy, but that’s long since faded. So you all must really like me, and for that I’m grateful.
Earlier this summer I was walking home from a neighborhood meeting and an old friend called to me from her garden, asked me to come up for a quick drink.
We met, this friend and I, when I was in my mid 20s and she had just turned 40 and we were both learning to play tennis. We both drove blue Subaru wagons, hers to hold her children’s belongings, mine to hold camera equipment and a change of clothes, because one never knows, at 25, what spontaneous adventures might arise.
Thirty years have passed since then. We’ve lived through fishing trips, weddings, career changes, and cocktail buffets. We’ve buried both our mothers and the courageous friend who taught us how to pick up tennis balls by tapping them with a racquet so we wouldn’t look like novice players.
We’ve known each other, this friend and I, long enough to be honest about who we are. Long enough that she could call from her garden and invite me to visit, not caring whether or not she was prepared for company.
Her husband opened a bottle of sparkling wine for the occasion (“why not?” he said), and we sat among carefully tended plants, next to a bubbling fountain, talking about work and writing and what’s ahead, now that my children are almost grown and out of the house.
She said: It’s easier to get things done once people start ignoring you. When you’re wrinkled and gray, no one sees you as a contender or a threat. Age is a secret power, if you accept it.
The woman at the party, the one who refused to be photographed by herself, relented when the frame was wide enough to include her children and grandchildren, cousins and friends whose affection ran deep.
Looking out at the garden she said: You know, I can see things now that I couldn’t see when I was young, how all the things that went wrong turned out, in the end, to be gifts.