Saturday, August 25, 2012

Reflections of who they still are.....

I feel very uncomfortable walking into a nursing home. When I see people rolled into the halls who can barely take care of themselves, I also see the Grim Reaper with his hand on their shoulder just waiting for his moment. As horrible as that sounds, in my mind, that's what I see. I see loneliness, loss, regret, fragility, deterioration, and my own fear of death.

And in the hustle and bustle of everyday life, it's so easy to walk past those who aren't hustling and bustling. It's so easy to put aside to another day those that we think in our minds will always be there sitting and waiting for us. It's easy to forget that those people in those nursing home halls have 80 or 90 some years of history behind them. It's easy to forget that those people had rich lives that without the hustle and bustle we have to deal with in our technologically driven lives may have been richer and more well-lived than our own.

I saw the series "Reflections" by photographer Tom Hussey tonight by clicking on a website link on a whim.  In each photo, an elderly person is looking in a mirror.  Looking back at them is a reflection of their younger self.  The photos are hauntingly beautiful.  They remind me that those people that I rush past in the nursing home who look like a shell of what used to be....well those people still are. They are in there.

That soldier who bravely fought in the war....he's still in there. He has a story of brotherhood, of atrocities, of valor, of patriotism.

That beautiful cabaret singer who all the men loved and swooned after....she's still there. She has a story of ambition, of perseverance, of pure unadulterated talent.

That strong Southern wife and mother....she's still there. She has a story of hardship, of motherly love, and of eternal hope.

One of my favorite quotes by Marilyn Monroe states "Beneath the makeup and behind the smile, I am just a girl who wishes for the world." Well, beneath the wrinkles and behind the thin skin lies a person who HAS the world. They hold 80 or sometimes 90 or God-willing even 100 years of the world inside. And that is beautiful.

I'm sad that for so long, I have allowed myself to pass by this soldier, this mother, this father, this doctor, this artist, this farmer, this musician and only see the Grim Reaper over their shoulder. It's our duty as witnesses of this world and bearers of history to hear their words. To capture their stories. To share their legacy.

I will never forget an assignment I had for my AP American History class where we had to interview someone that had lived through WWII and the Great Depression. I got to interview my grandmother and I am so thankful for that assignment. I was able to ask questions that I normally would never have asked and hear answers that I am so thankful to have written down to pass down one day to my children and my grandchildren about this strong, faithful, loving, steadfast woman.

When I was around 19 years old, I sat in church and cried as I listened to the story of a woman in my church who, along with her sisters, had been on the verge of death as a child from a serious illness, had a miraculous recovery from a blessing by a stranger, found unwavering faith in her religion, and became a strong mother, a strong wife, and a upstanding member in this community. As the congregation sat captivated, I sat amazed that I had lived next to this woman my whole life, that I carried her bloodline within my body, and that I didn't even know this story about my grandmother's life. I am so grateful to that church member who sat down with her and wrote that part of her story. For although I knew she was an amazing woman on my own, I may have never known the part of her story of how she came into her faith which molded every aspect of her life and along with her family was the thing she cherished most.

So next time you see an elderly person and want to rush past, even if you don't have a lot of time.....stop. Look at the person. Imagine what their life was like. Who they were. Who they are still. For beneath the wrinkles and behind the thin skin still lies that person.

And if you have a little time on your hands, sit down and talk to them.  Whether family or stranger. Talk to the soldier who saw his fellow brothers die and still courageously fought on. Talk to the political activist who helped gain acceptance and rights for fellow humans regardless of race, gender, or sexual orientation. Talk to the single mother who worked two jobs to raise four children on her own. Talk to the immigrant who moved here with nothing to his name, became a citizen, and made a life for himself and his family in America. Talk to the teacher who overcame poverty and a bad school system to became a teacher herself so that she could provide a great education to other children in need.

Look into their eyes. See that sparkle? That's their story. And if you take the time to find out more, you might find out that it's a medal of honor or a sequin, too.

(All photos below are from photographer Tom Hussey)