We are conditioned to think of age as a negative.
It’s not merely a bad thing-in-itself; it’s the not-thing. Not-young is not-manly, not-womanly, not-peak, not-prime. Even as adulthood gets further and further away — we now live in a world where unmarried at seventeen is n o longer an indication of impending spinsterhood, and where science has taught us that the frontal lobe remains undeveloped, unadult, until twenty-five — youth seems ever more fleeting.
Every generation thinks that.
And every generation laments growing old.
Part of it is the essential brevity of our lifespans: longer than ever, and yet never long enough to do all that we want to do, need to do, feel entitled to do. Never long enough to outlive illness and pain and decrepitude . . . if, that is, we are lucky enough to reach “old.”
A few generations ago, we would all already be ancient.
Our problem is that we spend too much time looking in the mirror, and not enough time looking out there.
We had fire in the sky this dawn, leaden clouds and white shrouds throughout the middle of the day. Now, as the shadows lengthen and the light grows short, The Old Man shows his face again: as old as time and just as wise, witness to worlds we can’t even conceive. To say that his face (or, rather, faces; his visage is formed of several layers of cliffs, and he shows himself whole only from certain vantage points) is craggy is a masterpiece of understatement; he is all pockmarks and pits and wrinkles and lines, his expression nearly always lost in the folds of earthy “flesh” that form his profile. ON some days, it gives him a look of serenity; on others, one of resignation, as though he suffers the existence of us mortals only because he must.
Spirit knows we’ve done precious little to deserve his indulgence, and plenty to incur his wrath.
But on a day like this, he seems mostly relaxed, at rest beneath the interplay of light and shadow that lines the side of his roughened head. They are old friends of his, after all, members of his extended cosmic clan who come to visit each day without fail. One some days, they are dressed more beautifully than others, more ready to dance with The Old Man who is the mountain.
On this day, light and shadow conspire to bring him together with his counterpart, lines outstretched like sunlit arms amid shadowed fringe, allowing him to reach once more for the peaks and valleys of The Old Woman who has birthed so much of this land.
Now, there are poles and wires stretched out at her feet, feeble human offerings that stand in the shadow of her shaded knees. They are not offerings, of course, so much as they are desecrations, violations: fetters and shackles that bind their mother’s skin, scars that defile her body. But having done their dirty work, perhaps now they can be turned in part to a purpose like sacrifice, a way of undoing their damage even as their existence perpetuates it.
Or perhaps, like a child who has broken something valuable, it is merely one of those things that we and they will all have to live with, to endure and hope we all survive.
Certainly the mountains, bent of knee and fertile of womb, will survive; they are fecund, fruitful, even in their advanced age. What they birth now is not what they bore those eons ago when they first emerged from the waters, but nor do we, having been so long on this side of the underworld and seemingly having learned so few of the lessons of either.
For now, though, this old earth gives us new gifts daily, birthing and rebirthing itself with each cycle of sun and moon, day and night.
Today, it shows us the face of an elder, a face that is old, and shows us the newness that lives within its lines.