Alexandria, VA – Musing about aging recently, I recalled an art exhibit in 2007 hosted by Tisara Photography in our Gallery Indigo. Gallery Indigo was located in the street-level space of the townhouse that was home to Tisara Photography for just under 30 years. We tried showcasing the work of other artists there but learned that for many reasons, it was not feasible.
This exhibit was a series by Sheryl Robin Gordon on “ElderFairies.” When I Googled Elder Fairies trying (I wasn’t successful) to locate Sheryl, I discovered that the “elder is a tree of beginnings and endings, of birth and death, so the elder fairy is a spirit of transformation and the crossing of thresholds. Generally seen as an old woman, the elder fairy advises on what to cast away and what to take up.” (www.thegoddesstree.com/trees/Elder.htm)
I don’t know if Sheryl knew this about Elder Fairies when she created her series. I surely didn’t. What I remember Sheryl saying was that these mischievous fairies visited you while you slept and when you awoke, you were suddenly old. I remember being particularly intrigued by one fairy that stole all your marbles while you slept.
I identify with waking up old. The first time a checkout clerk addressed me as ma’am, I looked around to see whom he was talking to. Around the same time, I was offered, without asking, a senior discount at a restaurant.
Since childhood, my memory has been poor. As a student, I worked hard to memorize things like times tables, state capitals, mathematical formulas, and the like. It’s always been a struggle for me. It’s the reason I keep an almost daily journal and why I take notes at meetings and transcribe them as soon as I get back to my home base. I maintain a detailed filing system that usually works.
The Rev. Dr. Kate Walker of Mt. Vernon Unitarian Church (our beloved Rev. Kate who recently relocated to Pittsburgh, PA) wrote after forgetting to submit two newsletter messages:
“…We should also be kind to ourselves when we forget something or experience confusion. Too often we apply a layer of guilt, admonition, or judgment, ‘I’m such a (fill in the blank with derogatory adjective).’ Instead, give it a laugh with a nice chortle or snort. Try expanding your web of support and ask for help with remembering things. This includes the ever-helpful tech support like Siri or Echo….”
In recent years, I have come to rely on mnemonics (from the Greek mnemonikos “mindful.”) Often, when I visit the Torpedo Factory Art League, I park near Princess and Royal Streets. I remember PR so I can come back and find my car. At the health club, I remember the name Cindy by the initials CD. Cindy is the woman who said she was inspired watching me work out. She didn’t have to add “for an older woman.” It was understood.
Long, long ago, I volunteered to teach photography to senior citizens at the Durant Center on Cameron Street. Before it was an art center, it was a senior center. There, I met Cuevas Adamson, who worked with senior programs. Cuevas knew, and I came to understand, that senior citizens were people who happened to be older, but they were people.
From my experiences there, I developed what I came to call the Wedge Theory of Aging. Like a wedge, small on the inside, wider on the outside, you change mostly on the outside, while inside the child you were still lives.
So here you have some of my personal musings on aging. For information about local programs, check out Senior Services of Alexandria (seniorservicesalex.org), a nonprofit with the mission “to foster independence and self-sufficiency, enabling seniors within the City of Alexandria to age with dignity,” and At Home Alexandria (athomeinalexandria.org), a nonprofit formed in 2008 to meet the needs of Alexandria residents 55 and older who are seeking options to remain in their homes as they age.
Nina Tisara is the founder of Living Legends of Alexandria.