I was staring at a picture of myself taken by a member of my staff. She captured me in good light with a slight smile on my unguarded face. Scrutinizing the image, I noticed the tiny details.
I have struggled my entire life with having my photo taken, and this photoshoot was not an exception. The truth is that it is an author’s modern requirements to have a prolific social media platform. The best profiles are ones where they can see you, feel you and know every last aspect of you.
I commit to being seen, but it doesn’t mean I am comfortable with it.
In my digital 48-year reflection, I see my father’s face in my own. I see the grey hair overtaking my brown, the laugh lines, and the dark rings under my eyes. Those eyes are a mix of my father’s glance, my mother’s concern and my own trickster with the flavor of my internal trickster sitting next to it.
Those eyes have traveled many miles, seen wondrous things, witnessed great beauty and squinted against injustice. They are the eyes of an experienced man who has seen too much of humanity’s dark side but somehow managed to stay open.
When I was younger, I thought men in their middle age looked ancient.
My grandfather’s skin always looked and felt leathery, his tan arms with sunspots, his tennis-toned body still soft in many places. My favorite English teacher taught his final class to me and ten other inmates of my high school. I remember he moved slowly with shocking white hair that was part of his character and as deep as his love for Hemingway’s prose. I grew to fear getting old. I was afraid of my body breaking down like the Who’s lyrics echoing “I hope I die before I get old,” and the sense that every passing minute was one more step towards the cane and the wheelchair.
Today, I don’t see age in my face anymore. I see deep wisdom. I see in those fragile lines across my forehead and my eyes memories of thousands of practice hours learning to be a man of integrity. I see the wars that I’ve fought, the mountains I’ve climbed and the scars of living a full and complete life. I see my best moments and those I wish I could take back if I could. I see the power of my miscues and the divine protection of the universe. I see a complete man.
In my more difficult days, I would feel like an aging master sergeant who has seen too many battles. I would walk among the casualties in my wake, walking past bodies of dead soldiers or those too injured to stand, and feel their pain. My thick shell numbed me to the pain inside my own war-torn heart.
The sun would rise, and I would awake to put on my uniform, pick up my weapon, and head out to join my squad. Life was a mission, and I was the expert, making sure the job got done regardless of the cost.
The only guarantee of a soldier’s life was to have a warm bed to lay his weary head upon his return. I learned to block out the feelings that wanted to be seen. I thought to survive was enough, and I was racking up a large balance on my psyche’s credit card.
The softer days were a reprieve from those challenges, and it felt like walking along the Schuylkill River on the first days of spring when the brittleness of a Philadelphian winter was releasing its grip. My feet would rejoice at the soft feeling of the grass, the warm sun embracing me, and it felt like I was simply infinite.
There was no limitation to who I could be, what I could do, and how much I could love. In those solitary midday walks, the wars seemed too long ago, and it felt like I would live forever.
The one thing that is certain in life is that this body won’t live forever. I watch my father during the last phase of his magnificent life get more and more sedentary. He moves from bed to couch, newspaper to magazine, one news channel to the next, happy to be home with his inactivity. I watch his body go on strike and his very sharp mind go on pause without warning.
While I am of his DNA, I know his path is just one option for me. I dedicate myself to organic living, exercise, and plan for my grandfather’s athletic body instead.
I am paying off that psyche credit card payment daily. I keep my attention on the PTSD that exists in my ancient blue eyes. I refuse to give up without a fight, my inner sergeant now fighting for my clarity rather than societal gain.
I open up the vault where my heart lies to my lady who walks in tenderly and rewards me for every truth I reveal. I focus on my mantra that “self-esteem is built upon esteemable acts” and deliberately weigh my decisions. I am aware of the cost of being out of my integrity and vow to walk the straight line into its center.
My youthful hands never truly understood their impact on women. I was built like a bull in an energetic china shop and would flail around knocking over glass vases and candlesticks to the floor shattering them. I was boundless enthusiasm without awareness.
My older hands have some scars, but they know where the soft elements are and how to change the stroke when the sensation shift. These once stubborn hands are now pliable, available, and deliberate.
Technology allows me to zoom in on the flaws of my aging face. I can see each element of years gone by as a strike against my self-image. I can think of hiring professionals to rid me of my skin’s wisdom or just take a softer look at them. I can see that it is not a flaw but an accent for a good man who has lived half (or so) of an amazing life. I can love each flaw as a feature and expression of my full life.
I can love myself.
Age has taught me that lesson most of all. It’s selfish to spend one’s days with the flogger in one hand and a selfie-stick in another. There are so many thousands of ways to take my attention and put it outward to the world, on my love, our children, my clients, and those still suffering from the PTSD of their own life’s battles. I can approve of myself and know, like a fine aged glass of wine, each day is a step towards my more mature and powerful flavor.
My eyes tell me that, and I believe them.
My invitation to you
Regardless of your age, your eyes have seen many things. Spend a few moments studying your face, feeling your soul, and pull out what wisdom wants to be revealed. Share it with an intimate friend or two and see how your life improves.