Have you ever paid really close attention to the photos your friends bring back from their European vacations? Have you noticed that there are more likely to be pictures of old buildings and old squares and old monuments and old… well… old stuff?
By contrast it seems that the U.S. is the world of everything is new. Heck, even our OLD celebrities die looking not all that different from the way the looked when they were in their 20’s — thanks to the intervention of modern plastic surgery. In the world of entertainment actresses like Helen Mirren, Celia Imri and others who have embraced that they are aging stand in stark contrast to others who’s attempts to maintain their youthful visage has ended up with them looking like bad caricatures of themselves. We tear down buildings when we decide that they are no longer techologically up to date. Those buildings — and you can see them in every city and town in america — that are disused become eyesores and hiding places for our invisible population of homeless.
I wonder what it is about U.S. culture that has us being so afraid of age and aging. What is it about wrinkles that seems to so insult our sense of beauty?
We are all going to age. The only solution to aging is to die young — which is something my paternal grandmother often reminded my mom — who was want to tell Grandma that she “shouldn’t get old” — meaning that she shouldn’t BEHAVE like an olde worn out person. To which Grandma inevitably responded, “What do you want, Violet, that I should die young?”
Know the difference between pride and something to be proud of.
Sometimes you have to give up the former to get the latter.
There’s a certain dignity to accepting aging, and there’s an outright vanity about thinking that we can tricking people into seeing us as younger than we really are — we aren’t really fooling anyone — we are only salving our own lack of self-esteem. But in the U.S. we seem to fear death and aging. Across the board we take great pains to hide aging and death from view. From the grocery meat counter with it’s hygienic, plastic wrapped portions of meat carcass, to funeral homes, to old age homes and hospitals — we don’t want the sick and the infirmed and the dying or any process that deals with death — to be seen. We covet youth, we tear down what’s old, we pretend in myriad ways that all will go on as it always has and that we are immune from the natural order of things — the natural progression from the cradle to the grave.
It’s not my place to judge those who spend fortunes on maintaining their youthful looks — that’s their choice and they are welcome to it. Beauty is, after all, an accident of genetics. No one’s appearance is “beautiful” because of what they have done; they are beautiful because of genes and chromosones and accidents of birth that they had no control over. That the entire world places so much emphasis on beauty has always been a mystery to me. I mean, sure, I like to see a beautiful woman or a handsome man — but their looks don’t make them kinder, or more lovable, or noble, or honest, or …. anything. They are simply, pleasant to look at. And to be honest, I can’t even say that an outrageously beautiful woman stirs my loins — because let’s be honest — the probabilities that I’m going to find myself with some widely desired sex goddess really aren’t there. 🙂
But why it is that other cultures seem to honor their history, preserve the things that made them who they have been for … centuries … and we do not ought to give us a moment or two pause. Is it that we don’t have anything to honor in the same way? Has our history and culture been so poor that we eschew all memories of it except our never-ending military braggadocio? We are proud of our military, we memorialize battles and battleships. We build museums for airplanes and campaigns. But evidence of our long history of slave ownership is much harder to find; you have to actually search for the honest telling of those historical memories.
My last visit to Europe was some 10 years ago I guess. I remember thinking at the time that in spite of armies clattering through their cities and countrysides and in spite of the horrendous damage caused they have succeeded in retaining the old looks and in many cases the old scars of the war — as reminders. Even in large cities. For example, you can find a lot of buildings in Paris that still bear the pockmarks of bullets from WWI and WWII.
We here in the U.S. have been fortunate in that most of the country has not seen the march of foreign modern armies across our terrain. But it’s not just MODERN armies that have marched across Europe and the U.S. It was ancient armies as well. On visits to England I was often told about places and artifacts from Roman times — especially about the Roman roads — because it seems that to this day the old Roman roads are the only ones that are straight.
In the U.S. it was not foreigners who did the marching — it was the U.S. military — as we “conquered” and sequestered the native population of this country. It was our soldiers who marched the original inhabitants of America across the Trail of Tears, displacing them and persecuting them. Instead of being the occupied who are maintaining their pride for the things that made them who they are — we are the occupiers who are — and should be — often ashamed of how we treated the First Nations who inhabited what we now call The United States of America.
I think that our inability to accept age, our unwillingness to be reminded of death and anything old is in part because we lack the same identity that Europeans, and Asians, and Africans and South Americans have had for centuries. WE were the “New World.” People from all over the globe came here to start fresh — they left behind what they had and facing an undeveloped expanse of openness they thought they could create anything they wanted — and we have done so. But what have we created?
We incarcerate more citizens than any other nation — by far.
Our military is engaged in +70 nations doing unspoken things that our government never talks about.
We have a drug addicted population who want to escape the life they are living even at the risk to their own health posed by addiction.
We have enslaved other humans both in formal acknowledged forms of slavery and as well by the rich holding the poor down through wages and prices until they are desparate.
I could go on — I don’t need to give you a long list. Your own conscience may identify more items than I would ever think of — we’ve all been part of this history. But the real question is how do we change it? Or do we?
Do we say, that’s who we are, and go on as we always have done?
Or do we say, this far and no further? We must change.
No one cans answer for you.