This photograph, one among many, was taken by Paul Graham for his recent book, Mother.
The photo and some others of Graham's mother are included in a Washington Post story written by Keith Dickerman who had recently visited his own mother:
”From my newfound perspective,” writes Dickerman, “Graham’s book looks like a loving meditation on his own mom. The photos are soft, delicate, quiet and, ultimately, reflective. Paging through the book, I felt an affinity for how Graham seems to feel about his mother.”
More portrait than photograph, they led me with each viewing to wonder about her life, the lives of all people who reach a great age and the stillness that seems to accompany many of the oldest old.
Perhaps I have been spoiled by TGB's brilliant comment section, but I hardly ever read comments elsewhere on the internet – so many are stupid, vulgar, mean and therefore time-wasters.
This time, however, I took a glance at them and was not disabused of my opinion:
“I understand this is art," wrote one, "whose purpose is to capture a poignant moment in time. And it is familiar to me as I was there for my mother to her last, when she was a withered shell of herself.“Withered shell of herself?” “Not relevant to who she was?” Really? All those late years don't count for anything?
“But I choose not to remember her like this. It is not relevant to who she was. I have several 'snapshots' of her sparkly, vibrant, somewhat incorrigible self in mind, when she was getting the biggest bang out of life. And that is what she would want.”
Here are two more:
“I hope to god my children have more kindness and sense than to take and publish photos of me when I am in this state. I’m sure this woman would be horrified to know he has done this.”
“I have raised my children to be kind and I know they would never take pictures of me like this. I don’t want to be remembered as a young woman but as a good mother.”
It is obvious the people who wrote these comments do not believe there is any value to old age. With such apparent loathing of aged bodies, how do they tolerate looking at their mothers? Are they repulsed? Do they tell their children not to photograph their grandmother? Do they not love their old mothers as much as when they were younger?
And will they like themselves less when they are “in this state"?
At the risk of breaking an arm while patting myself on the back, I've made it a point to watch myself age since my mid-fifties when I first realized I am not the world's one immortal. After all those years, my response to changes in my body is generally neutral.
Vein-y hands. Eye crinkles. Forehead lines. Crepe-y neck. Those two smile/frown lines around my mouth – I've watched them deepen over many years and they're still doing it. Plus, as I once wrote in these pages, where did my butt go?
I don't compare myself now to what I looked like as a young or mid-life woman. I look at myself as an old woman now and isn't it amazing the changes that keep happening.
The people who wrote these comments are not outliers. They're just more honest than many others.
But how is it, do you think, that Americans hate old age so much, so deeply? And how is that any different from hating old people themselves?