By Barb Arland-Fye
Scanning the posts on my Facebook page, I stopped to view a touching series of photos titled “Reflections of the Past.” In each image a senior citizen gazes wistfully at his or her younger self, reflected in a mirror or window. One older woman, standing in front of a bathroom mirror in a hospital or nursing home, sees an image of herself as a young nurse. An older man sees his younger self as a scientist. Two other elderly men see their younger selves as a firefighter and a welder, respectively. A couple of older women see themselves as the coed or teacher they once were.
Commercial advertising photographer Tom Hussey captured these poignant images after hearing a World War II vet say, “I can’t believe I’m going to be 80. I feel like I just came back from the war. I look in the mirror and see this old guy,” according to an explanation that accompanies the photo series. A healthcare company used the images for a marketing a patch used in the treatment of Alzheimer’s disease.
Comments that appear beneath the photo series tugged at my heart as much as the images. One commentator, age 75, still feels like 30. The images left her feeling kind of sad and amused. Another woman said the images brought happy tears. She recounted how her mother, who had dementia, could look out a window and see the family’s old farm, the pond and trees. Another commenter observed: “Because that’s who we still are inside.”
The same day, my mom posted a quotation from GodFruits that embraces aging. The author doesn’t want to turn back the odometer, but to let people know “why I look this way. I’ve traveled a long way, and some of the roads weren’t paved.”
For me, the two different messages in these posts are striking: one celebrates the vitality, the value of the young while the other honors the lived experiences, the perseverance of those who reach old age. Today, as I wrote this column, my husband Steve coincidentally took out a couple of photo albums to show our younger son. Steve pointed to an image of his beloved (and long gone) dog, Duchess, whom our son Patrick never met. They laughed over images of me as a young reporter, runner and bride-to-be. What fun to look back, to remember our younger selves. But it’s more breathtaking to consider what has transpired in our lives in the intervening years. It reminds me of the David Haas hymn “Song of the Body of Christ:” “… “We come to share our story. We come to break the bread. We come to know our rising from the dead.”
In the final days of Respect Life Month, the Facebook postings cause me to reflect on the value of all life: the young, the old, people with disabilities and infirmities. I believe a pope once said that the value of a human being has nothing to do with productivity. Catholic teaching says we are valuable because we are made in the image of our God who loved us before knitting us in our mother’s womb and will love us for all eternity.
The older people in the photo series look so wistful, gazing into their life’s rearview mirror. In some of the images a younger family member, perhaps an adult child, stands or sits lovingly beside the senior. St. John Paul II observed that “When the body gets worn out, the soul gets in shape.” It’s a promise that could give the photo series a genuine sense of hope.
(Barb Arland-Fye, Editor, can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. To see the photo series go to http://tinyurl.com/nqw4pbg).