This one is from my budget smart phone. Who still uses “budget” as an adjective? I think such usage is a symptom of impending middle age.
I turned 45 this month. Over the past couple weeks, I’ve asked myself a crucial question several times: are you old enough to withstand seeing yourself as other people see you?
I admit that this question is a bit strange, but it is in my nature to wonder over such oddball notions. When I was a child, I wished and wished that I could shrink myself small enough to fit inside my toy shopping cart, just to see the world like my stuffed animals did as I walked them down the street in that cart. I imagined that I could have heard their soft banter had I been their size.
For all that we share selfies and short updates about daily life, are we any more efficient at conveying our selves to the world than we were before the internet existed as we now know it?
Think of the sense we gain of someone by watching that person enter a room or move down the street. When I look at the online profiles of my friends and family, I’ve hardly ever seen such footage, and I hadn’t thought to share such moments online until today.
This afternoon I remembered what the world was like when I became an adult in the early 90’s. The options in communicating over a distance with a kindred spirit were limited. Long distance telephone calls were pricey, so like many of my generation, I’d record mix tapes and write letters packed with inside jokes.
Back then, I could not have imagined what it would be like to have a real-time, multimedia communication device at my disposal. If smartphones had materialized back in the early 90’s, I’d have wanted to see ordinary moments of those who were and still are dear to me.
I remember being 19 years old and living 600 miles away from my mother. How delightful it would have been to watch a video of her lighting a cigarette in the morning and sipping her coffee.
Why is that we have this technology at our disposal but it is so seldom used in this way? Is movement reserved as that last shred of privacy in lives lived ever increasingly online?
I set up my tripod in my backyard after I returned home from work this afternoon. I wondered if I could stand to see myself walk across the yard. Believe it or not, if you haven’t seen a video of yourself walking before, the experience is just as jarring as hearing your recorded voice for the first time. Both experiences beg two questions: Is that really me? and How much do I like that person?
In seeing my video, I had to confront how I felt about myself. At first, I recoiled at the sight of it. Then I considered that my distaste was not a reflection of reality but of how I perceived myself. When I go about the business of daily living, people don’t react to me like I am a bloated absurdity come to life, and the odds are slim indeed that most people I encounter are wearing a poker face until I am out of sight.
I rewatched the video with the thought: imagine that you are watching somebody’s mother, daughter, wife, or best friend. Then I realized that I was doing just that. The people who are dearest to me don’t love me in spite of how I look, sound, and move. They love me in part because of those things.
I share this because the same thing is true of you, dear reader. At this moment, there are people in your life who would love to see moments of your life today as you lived them. Will you let them see you, or will you wait until some perfect moment in the future, when your hair, clothes, and size have reached some mythical standard?
There is no reason to wait, for you are already perfect enough for those who love you.
Here is my video:
I haven’t taken my picture in five years. At that point, the phenomenon of selfies reached a point of supersaturation. I decided to halt the habit unless inspiration hit me to take a true self-portrait (which hasn’t happened yet).
I figured that I am overdue to update my general profile picture online. Presenting a self from five years ago isn’t the most genuine window dressing on a blog.
I’m all about being candid with my appearance. This insistence borders on laziness I suppose, but long ago I decided that if a man can present his physical self to the world as he really is, then I could too. I do not wear makeup or color my hair (I think my hair is still exhausted from all the colors I forced on it between the ages of 16 and 35). My hair care regime is wash-and-wear.
Implied in this is an acceptance that I am no longer as young as I used to be. Wrinkles and gray hair have begun their slow takeover. My gray hairs must have been on break when I took this picture. They aren’t too apparent in this shot.
Over the past eight years, I’ve grown used to being well. This was not a natural condition for me, especially considering my lengthy history of depression. There were spans of physical wellness during those years, but I felt like these times free of illness were just eyes in the hurricane of faltering health. Then I was well for long enough, both in body and mind, that I embraced an identity that was not tainted with fragile health.
Fast forward to summer 2016, and I could no longer deny odd sensations from my left leg. I’d have alternating periods of moderate pain broken by numbness in the knee joint. I had a diagnosis of a sprained knee, but I had no accident that precipitated that injury. I figured the problem was strain due to overuse, and I did a month of physical therapy for the problem. Last week I was back to the doctor to report that therapy had resolved my pain but not the numb feeling in the joint. There are also times when it feels hot or cold, but not to the touch. Sometimes it feels like blood is rushing back to it to wake it up.
I haven’t the slightest idea of what is going on, but I do know it is disconcerting to have almost constant waking awareness of my left leg. Why can’t it just cooperate like the right leg, useful and hardly noticed? My doctor ordered an MRI, which revealed a perfectly normal knee joint.
This causes me to doubt my perceptions. If there was something physically wrong with this leg, surely there would be some evidence of damage on an MRI. I’ve been referred to an orthopedist solely as precautionary measure, and the likely result will be nothing amiss. This investigation will be over, the odd parethesia part of a “new normal” for me.
I did sprain this knee twenty six years ago, yet the scan reveals no legacy of damage. Is it possible for the brain to resurrect memory of an injury even after healing is complete?
Maybe this is one of those things about growing older that is kept secret from the young. Your body may start feeling different in unexpected ways, and answers can be so hard to find that they seem hardly worth pursuing.
One of the assisted living facilities in my area is airing a TV commercial that mentions workshops on successful aging. I won’t blame this local facility for coining the term, for it seems to be the invention of a shadowy Illuminati designed to make us feel inadequate and ready to buy remedies for our shortcomings. Perhaps the same folks who decided to oppress us with BMI goals are now suggesting that we could fail in our twilight years as well. The term successful aging implies that someone could fail at it. Everyone since the dawn of humanity has succeeded at aging for as long as their lives have lasted. Furthermore, no one who had a short life should be considered a failure based on their lifespan.
I recall watching Cheek to Cheek on TV last year, an impressive duet performance between Lady Gaga and Tony Bennett. I remarked to my husband, who has aged successfully for sixteen more years than I have, “Tony Bennett has an amazing voice for his age. I don’t think most people his age can still sing.”
My husband said, “Most people his age are dead.”
This evening I watched a recent NOVA documentary on Alzheimer’s research, and I suddenly recalled a blessing I said to my daughter in the hours after she was born. In my first moments alone with her, I skipped over introducing myself to her, for I figured that I was no stranger to her. I held her facing me and said, “may people feel as much pride and joy in caring for you when you are old as they did when you were so young.”
Can there be any better fortune than to be cherished at our end as much as we were at our beginning?