Much like you, I look at pictures of myself frequently and grimace.
The scars. The wrinkles. The shadows. The greying hair. I’ve got my battle wounds and until you stop and look at them (via pictures), you don’t really remember that they’re there.
My Publisher photos don’t help. High-quality, highly detailed pictures of myself that Ben (our graphic designer and photographer) likes to make as big as possible and I just look at them and sigh deeply. I’m so much “younger” in appearance in my mind, and to see the reality of my appearance can be…well…depressing.
I don’t think I’ve ever told this story to you before, but my right eye droops a fair amount. It’s not because of age, it’s because the entire right side of my face is titanium. Seriously. As I have chronicled in these letters, I used to race motorcycles as a kid, and I bought one with my brother in college. I bought it on a Saturday, and by Sunday afternoon I was in the ER. I was fully protected (helmet, pads, etc) but sure enough, I can remember flying through the air just before impact I can remember thinking “This is probably going to hurt.” The next thing I remember was the ER folks cutting my clothes off. From there, I remember a bright blue light above my eyes and a booming voice that said “Don’t MOVE.” I was in an MRI machine as they were searching for brain damage on me and the machine operator was telling me to hold still.
In the months that followed, I ultimately had to have reconstructive face surgery that included a metal cheekbone and an eye socket that had to be rebuilt. It was pretty intense and my kids think it’s super cool that you can feel screws in my eyebrows. When I was in my 20s, you couldn’t tell that the work had been done and most people said “REALLY?” when I would explain what my face had experienced. As I have aged, the damage is beginning to show itself. I figure by the time I’m 80 the whole right side of my face will droop and, well, I’ll have a cool story to tell I guess to all my old cronie friends down at the Duck. And no, I don’t set off the metal detectors.
I also have dark eyes. This isn’t unique to me, because who doesn’t complain about the bags under the eyes, but I have them and they irritate me just as yours irritate you. Middle age and stress has brought me sleepless nights, and they happen way more than I’d prefer. Don’t we all hate it when your friend walks up to you and says “Man, you look tired!”? You want to throttle them and say “That’s because I am, jerk.” I am stressed, I don’t sleep enough, I have 1000 things I’m trying to do, and yeah…it gives me dark rings under my eyes. It happens. Just the same as for you”.
Scars. Dark circles. Laugh lines. Wrinkled foreheads. I suppose I’m just getting a perspective for what these things really mean, and how to handle them. I stare at my own photos of late and scratch my chin as I wonder who this rough looking middle-aged man actually is. Because it’s not me.
I’m 26 in my mind, and behave as such. Sure, I’m wiser, but I also catch myself playing basketball with my 13 year old with an abandon that middle aged men surely should not exhibit. I still ride motorcycles (much to my mother’s shagrin). I’m still climbing those trees, jumping in the surf, and cannon-balling into the pool with the best of them.
But I’m “middle aged”, dammit. Shouldn’t I tone it down a little and grab an iced tea and watch from the patio while the youngsters engage in such shenanigans?
But here’s the thing that I’m learning: my scars, my wrinkles, the screws in my eye socket that kids like to feel…well, those are nothing but evidence of LIFE. And boy have I had some adventures in this life. I don’t like to look at my drooping face, but I can sort of chuckle about the entire story with my brother and my misadventures with motorcycles. The lines in my forehead trouble me, but they’re evidence of thought, and learning, and struggle. My laugh lines are just that: remnants of laughter. The bags under my eyes, while annoying, simply mean that I have things to worry about…and if you have things to worry about, you probably have more than some that have nothing. So I guess I’ll take it. Give me “worry” as opposed to giving me nothing.
I’m not getting any younger, and neither are you. My late friend Bill Zaner used to tell me all the time, “I don’t need a good memory – I have a great imagination!” and it’s so very very true. I can choose to remember the pain, the struggles, the heartaches and all of the things that led me to my current wrinkled-but-not-yet-broken state of appearance. I can choose to moan about my wrinkles and drooping eyes and grumble about my inability to keep up with my 13 year old playing basketball. OR I could choose to wear my scars and wrinkles like a badge of honor and remember that some people don’t get the privilege of aging. Let us all remember those that don’t see their 20th birthday, or their 10th, or their 1st.
So here’s to you, friends. Those of you that catch yourselves poking at the newly found wrinkles on your face each morning while you ready yourself for the day. For the ones that sigh when you stare at yourself while brushing your teeth and think “Who in the HELL is this old codger staring back at me?!” I’m with you, and I feel your pain.
But let’s take it in stride, let’s appreciate our scars and wrinkles as simply battle wounds dished out by LIFE, and let’s give thanks that…so far…we have survived the war.
May we turn the page to a new season, EXPLORE our lives, and give thanks that we are here to see a new chapter unfold.
Benjamin D. Schooley