This post began life as an installment of the weekly newspaper column, “Denim Spirit” in The Finger Lakes Times (NY): http://www.fltimes.com/opinion/denim-spirit-in-the-mirror-of-aging/article_51b62bf8-568f-11e7-9245-9f202451e7b8.html
Recently I attended a college alumnae/alumni reunion weekend. It wasn’t a year in which my class was gathering but I was asked to be on a panel for the occasion, as were several other members of my class. So I went.
It was the first time I have ever attended a reunion weekend.
What struck me right off the bat was how old all the men looked. It was as if they were all old enough to be my father (actually, the age my dad was when I went to college). Then, standing near a group of women all wearing the same yellow shirts, a cohort of the same class, I thought to myself, “Wow, I wonder what ancient year they’re from?” Looking more closely at their badges, I noted they were only four years ahead of my class. Huh?
Most of my action-packed trip was spent with the same group of men, interspersed with socializing within larger groups of men and women. There was not one person I encountered who I had seen in forty-one years. Few of them have held the same shape, and fewer of the men have kept the same hair. But as the hours passed I could see and hear those nineteen and twenty year olds emerge in the faces and voices around me. Whereas I began the weekend by squinting to see in a stranger’s face the vestiges of an old friend, I could soon recognize their presence.
I could not help but wonder how they saw me, absence a great deal of dark hair on my head and face, and nearly fifty pounds lighter.
One man and two women looked essentially the same through the aging of their faces, and one of them amazingly youthful. But it was our personality traits that proved to be most recognizable. Our personalities had become more pronounced even as our bodies and faces took on different and less familiar contours. It reinforced for me that old adage, we simply become more of who we are the older we get.
It seems to me the strengths and weaknesses we are born with are the ones we die with, the only question is what we do with them and how we use them. Therapy and all such efforts to heal the wounds of childhood and transform the inadequacies of our body or personality cannot make them go away. But introspective efforts can help us compensate for problematic elements, and discover hidden strengths among them.
We are not doomed to the limitations and hazards of our personality, but we cannot change them or make them different. What we can do is discover their benefits, as well as adjust and ameliorate the difficulties they create. That may not seem sufficient when some aspect of our personality haunts us, but if we work at self-awareness and do what it takes to be open and resilient, it will be enough.
Having attended my first reunion in forty years, I look forward to the forty-fifth.