Do love, beauty, and Valentine’s Day belong only to the young? I don’t think so! Like Paul McCartney, I got happy seeing older people in love even when I was very young. Our culture doesn’t celebrate old-age love and beauty. So we have to teach it to ourselves and each other. Here’s a valentine to all old lovers, wherever they are or how they love!
When Paul McCartney wrote the famous song below, he was sixteen years old! Now he’s living what he foresaw.
I have sung this song often to my valentine over the course of 45 years, and this is the year when it is most relevant, the year when I turn the big 6-4. This year I’m getting him opera tickets, and we’ll go hand in hand.
Today I sing this song to you, whether you are 16 or 64. If you aspire to love in old age, here are some roses to support and inspire you.
One Dozen Roses for Remembrance
— Coco Chanel
There’s a reason Betty White delights the whole world. She illustrates that exuberance doesn’t have to end in youth. She has enough joie de vivre to last several lifetimes. She and a handful of other female actresses — Vanessa Redgrave, Judy Dench, Maggie Smith, Myrl Streep — are offering us positive, often feisty, screen images of aging not available in the generations preceding them.
Here’s another short video celebrating beautiful older women.
Not all of the famous beautiful faces belong to women. One of the most beautiful to me is Dom Helder Camara’s. Years ago, I was showing a film to a class of Goshen College students. In the film Archbishop Camara is attending a large youth rally in Philadelphia. He is singing, along with the youth, the song “I Believe in Music.” When he sings “I believe in love,” the camera moves close to his face. On his wrinkled, sunbeaten, skin and in his eyes shines a heavenly light. Tears rain down like rivulets along his wrinkles as he smiles. We see transfiguration.
I was so moved by watching this scene that I stopped the projector and said through my own tears. “You may forget everything else you learned in this class, but never forget what real love looks like on a human face.”
For most of us, someone not famous has taught us most about enduring love. If we’ve seen a transfigured face, we likely saw it close up.
I am fortunate to have a mother whose ability to love is written in her face. Barbara Ann Hess Hershey Becker will be 85 years old on February 27, 2012. Thanks, Mother, for pointing out to me the beauty and wisdom on the faces of the elderly saints around me when I was a child — Barbara Oberholtzer, Emma Forrey, Melvin and Mary Lauver, Elmer and Maud Eby, Anna Eby. You taught me to look for kindness and light in the eyes and illumination from the inside out. Now your granddaughter Joy has captured that look on your own face with her camera.
One Dozen Roses for Reflection
In addition to remember people who have carried light on their faces into old age, now is a day to reflect on the process of aging itself. No cosmetic will supply this kind of beauty and wisdom. You will see the connection of love and beauty to stories and story telling. I suggest that you print these quotes and place them on the bathroom mirror. They make good morning meditation inspirations:
If we knew how to read the faces of others, we would be able to decipher the mysteries of their life stories. The face always reveals the soul; it is where the divinity of the inner life finds an echo and an image. When you behold someone’s face, you are gazing deeply into that person’s life. (John O’Donohue, Anam Cara, p. 39).
From the Facebook page of my friend Daisy Hickman: ”Before you know kindness as the deepest thing inside, you must know sorrow as the other deepest thing. Then it is only kindness that makes sense anymore, only kindness that ties your shoes and sends you out into the day to mail letters and purchase bread.” Naomi Nye
It is a wonderful day in a life when one is finally able to stand before the long deep mirror of one’s own reflection and view oneself with appreciation, acceptance, and forgiveness. (O’Donohue, Beauty: The Invisible Embrace, p. 191).
Rather than being a fall away from beauty, aging can be the revelation of beauty, the time when the inherent radiance becomes beautiful. (Ibid., p. 185).
One Dozen Roses for Revelation
This blog post started in my head when Shirley Kurtz commented about Jane Fonda’s TED talk, noting the wicked irony that the new champion of the “Third Act” recently had a face lift for the sake of removing the bags under the eyes and “wattles” that might hinder a Hollywood career. I asked Shirley K if I should write about wrinkles and wattles. After all, I had already written about moving from auburn to grey hair. She urged me on.
But the blog post really started in my heart a few weeks before that as my daughter Kate and I were working on my new website together. When she showed me the home page of the new site, I first looked at it on a large monitor and cringed.
“Can you make that picture smaller?” I asked. “I see a lot of wrinkles!!”
She didn’t skip a beat. “I love your wrinkles,” she said.
That was valentine enough for my 64th year.
What Valentine would you like to offer to your own role models in aging? To the Beatles? To the aging process itself? Don’t hold back! Share the love. If sixteen-year-old Paul McCartney could be wise enough to celebrate old-age love, so can all of us.