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Choosing a Life – Or Letting It Happen

The Face of Time

By Anne Burack-Weiss

“My contemplations are of Time
That has transfigured me.”

- W.B. Yeats The Lamentation of The Old Pensioner

It is said that by a certain age a woman has “the face she deserves.” And about 70 or so it becomes a map of the person within.

I have seen old women like that. Nuns. Vegans. Those for whom a swipe of chap-stick has always sufficed as a makeup regimen. You could imagine that they looked like they always had - themselves grown older.

I look like a different being entirely.

Yes, I overdid the red meat and red wine, baked in the sun before SPF 75, was often less than generous in word or deed. But hey, I was not the real life embodiment of Dorian Gray – whose suddenly uncovered picture revealed decades devoted to dissolute pleasure.

I anticipated a face where glimpses of a younger self could still be seen. I had imagined laugh lines, evidence of good cheer, soft white curls affirming a tender nature.

I had not imagined wrinkles flowing every which way, eyelids at half mast, elongated ear lobes, a nose that neatly nestles in the cross cut pleats of my upper lip - brown spots punctuating the terrain.

Transfigured is indeed the word. A metamorphosis, a shifting and sliding as inevitable as the grooves the receding tide etches on the sand.

I look to the photograph of my great grandfather – Isaac Lander. It is a studio shot circa 1930. He is four years younger than I am now, a decade past the biblically allotted three score and ten.

We never met. All I know of him is that he was born in a small town on the border of Lithuania in 1845, emigrated to Boston with a wife and five children at the age of 50. I cannot begin to imagine a life so different from my own.

And yet.

Remove the skullcap and replace with a color-assisted mess of curls, shave the beard but for a few random strands undetected in the 10X magnifying glass and there you have me - the hooded eye lids, the elephantine ear lobes, the nose like the front end of parenthesis.

I look again. He seems to be engaged with someone or something outside the frame. The expression in his eyes is soft, interested, curious. He looks weighed down by the years but still open to life.

Yeats concludes The Lamentation of the Old Pensioner, “I spit into the face of time/That has transfigured me.” But looking into Isaac’s eyes , I wonder...

Could it be that our old faces may not, in fact, be ones we deserve or even earn? Could it be that the vagaries of the lived experience – the choices we make in youth and middle age, the good and bad luck that comes our way, even gender differences take us only so far – until the immutable rules of genes, gravity and time take over?

We do our best, grow old (if we are lucky!) wither, die.

As I carry Isacc’s face – our face –from the 19th to the 21st centuries, I am as the flowering plants that cheer the days I spend indoors on cold winter days. They are something to look forward to as I come downstairs for coffee each morning.

I buy them when they are in bud, tend carefully through the height of their beauty and dispassionately view their withering. They may not bloom again. But somewhere gardeners are preparing new plants from their seeds.


How beautiful!

smile spreads across my face, done a lot of that in 81 yrs. lovely post.

It’s an old saw, but our beauty comes from within. A person’s face can be well timeworn, but compassion, love, laughter and joy are transforming!

Anne Burack-Weiss, thank you, as I've been doing family genealogy, and having cousins post pics they have of relatives on Facebook pages we are sharing in private. And yes, seeing the similarities and finding cousins all over the world as well. Sharing and caring. And realizing I Lost family during the Holocaust, which I'd never had a chance to even know about.

Your writing is clear and strong.


A lovely meditation on an unfathomable subject. My mother told me that if I'd only eat more, gain some weight, then I'd sort of be puffed up from the inside, thus having fewer wrinkles. Perhaps she was kidding. Hard to tell. A lovely meditation.

Thank you for this, Anne. It is beautiful.

Your lovely meditation/essay made me smile. Very lyrical--and true. Thank you. When I bemoan the little growths and age spots that pop up on body and face, I do my best to think of my friends, the noble, aged trees that have so much character and grace. I feel awe in their presence. And yet, their bark and trunks and branches are adorned with various growths, lichens and mosses and burls--just as I am. Still, they stand, stalwart sand honest. They comfort me. They, too, have withstood the years and storms. As we have--and continue to do so. Lessons are whispered in the wind. I try to reach for the sky.

Love that last paragraph especially. Very nice piece.

Anne - a soothing balm in the chaos of aging. Thank you.

What a beautifully written piece. Thank you so much for sharing it!

When I was 21, I looked like I was 13. Now I am 75 and look like I am 85. It only bothers me a little.
I highly recommend “The Lioness in Winter” by today’s guest blogger. A compilation of insights on being old by famous women authors including Ms. Burack-Weiss.

Lovely! But Anne - "nuns, vegans"? It made me laugh.

Thanks Mia for mentioning The Lioness in Winter. And thanks to everyone for your kind comments. It is always an honor to be published here, to feel myself a part of the unique community Ronni created. We are all in her debt. Ann Burack-Weiss

What a great piece! Gravity--we all sooner or later cave to it. I'm reminded of Simone de Beauvoir's writing on looking at herself in the mirror and not recognizing herself. But, in her day, she didn't have the support that we do today! Thanks so much for this!

Like Patricia, I'm blown away by old trees, I simply love their gnarly branches and well earned lumps, their wrinkly bark, unconventional shapes and sheer tenacity. I feel they are absolute treasures and I've often asked myself why I can't look at myself in the same way. :-)

Yes, I don't look like me either. I understand all but the big brown spot on the bottom of my chin.

This is just a lovely essay and makes me feel better about my 71 and year old aging face and body, and the continuity of life, even when we, the individuals plants, once beautiful even if only because of our youth, are now the fading plants that will prepare the soil for the young, I am adopted, so wish for the photos of older family members who look like me in a few years. I too have indulged in too much wine and red meat, but hate sweating so the sun has not been too prominent in my demise. Fleeting pleasures, though drink and wine may be, along with the joys of time with friends and laughter, they make this life, however short or long, at least in part, a pleasure.

Beautifully written with much to contemplate. Thank youl

At 71, I think I look pretty bad. I just hope that I look different when animated and attentive to someone than when caught randomly by a camera. And I hope that beauty, indeed, comes from within; my intentions are usually good.

I don’t seem to scare people, and my grandchildren love me, so...I guess I’m doing okay! I’ll try to remember the tree analogy and apply it to myself. Thanks, Anne and community!

Ours lives are like the seasons..
Spring we are born and are fresh lovely and young
Summer we live life to the fullest with family, fun, the whole world at our feet
Fall we begin to age in grace and introspection...some say it’s their favorite time with the most beauty of all
Winter we begin to shut in, go deep, dreaming of the other three as it all drifts away.

Oh Ann, this is a keeper! I will download this wonderfully written, wise writing to read again and again.

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