Seeing the frozen faces of aging stars on the Oscars this month (oh, Goldie) got me thinking: We’re just not always allowed to age gracefully. We spend billions in a vain attempt to stave off the effects of time. Worse, it seems we don’t always value the elderly in our society the way they do in most of the world.
As a child, I was keenly aware of how lucky I was to have my grandparents. Living overseas, we only saw them once a year (on home leave), but I still wrote them long letters weekly, a ritual I stuck to even through the hazy days of college. For me, it was a way to nurture a relationship that mattered (the young learning from the old and vice versa). Now that my parents are the Nonni and Nonno in our house, it’s the same with our boys. This appreciation for old folks is also on full display in Europe.
One Sunday last October, on one of my wife’s intimate curated trips to Italy, we found ourselves in the tiny village of Scanno, high in the mountains above Sulmona in earthquake ravaged L’Aquila. The village is called the “Pearl of Abruzzo” for good reason. It’s incredibly picturesque, and for extra eye candy, you have to drive through the clouds to get to it. But more than the old buildings and weathered surroundings, what impressed most were the old people of this little hamlet.
On this drizzly afternoon, they were hard to miss: A face peeking out from hanging laundry. A beaming shop proprietor. A woman walking with her grandchild. A smartly dressed man out for a stroll. An old woman navigating the narrow, wet streets with a cane. A man pausing to read a plaque in a tiny square. A tough faced woman walking with purpose. An old lady doing her shopping.
The final picture is of three little girls on that same afternoon. I include it because with luck, one day they too will grow old. With wrinkles, laugh lines, a wealth of life experience and rich stories to tell. But I suspect they might be more comfortable with this inevitable life transition that most of us.
Perhaps because they will still live with relatives close by and take family dinners together several times a week, as is the Mediterranean custom. Perhaps because they’ll still be active, not sedentary, not glued to the couch gazing at the “idiot box.”
Or perhaps, as Nils Lofgren sang in his brilliant cover of Carole King’s Going Back, they will have learned that “Thinking young and growing older ain’t no sin. I can play the game of life to win.”
Note: I took these pictures on a beat up iPhone 4S, threw a quick filter on ’em, and shared ’em on Instagram. I think their subjects still have plenty to say.