Alexandria NewsMemories and Musings

Memories and Musings – On the Landscape of Aging

Red-shouldered hawk: (Photo by Ralph Johnson)

Alexandria, VA – There’s something sad about old telephone directories. Not the ones that used to be published by The Telephone Company when there was a Telephone Company. I’m writing here of personal telephone books. They’ve all but disappeared, done in by phones and computers that remember numbers and email addresses.

Remember the Rolodex? You can still find vintage versions on Etsy and eBay.

I didn’t have a Rolodex. When I worked as executive assistant to the director of an association of state agencies, I filed 3×5 index cards in a box. I still do. I learned to jot down the names of secretaries of the people who led the member agencies. They were, without exception, women. Sometimes, I added the names of their husbands and children so that they became more than names to me. As gatekeepers, the secretaries helped me get my work done.

My neighbor Tom Mangum photographed this hawk visiting one of my trees last spring. (Photo: Tom Mangum)

It was, for me, a network, and for the most part, networks work.

My network doesn’t work as well anymore. Many people are not in the same jobs. Some have moved away. Some have died.

Looking back to the 50s and 60s I went to a lot of weddings of cousins and friends. It looked like fun, and before long, I got married. Then my cousins and friends were having babies, and before long, my husband and I started having babies too, four of them. Then friends bought homes. After a time, we bought one too.

Many years have passed. Now, instead of weddings and baby showers, I go to Memorial Services and Celebrations of Life. (I don’t hear the word “funeral” much anymore.)

Today, on the day I write this, I returned from a visitation to read the obituary of a friend and received notice that still another has died. It’s sobering.

I grieve for the families who have lost loved ones. I have lost friends. The landscape has changed. The people-scape has changed. Many people in my network are no longer here.

Now well into my 85th year, I am ever more aware that I won’t live forever.

I have prepared for my death as best I can. Mostly. I’ve updated my will and all the attendant papers. I’ve talked to the kids about how they will divvy up my “things.” I accept that I won’t be in charge, but I’m confident they will work it out.

I’d have to live a whole other lifetime to organize and index 30 years of negatives from my life as a photographer. It’s unlikely they will all get indexed. The truth is that I’d rather make mosaic art or work in my yard than index negatives. It’s my way of eating dessert first because life is short.

The poem that follows was written by W. Caldwell Webb (aka Pop). Readers may remember that I met Pop when I drove to Paris, Va., looking for a scene that called for me to paint it. (On Spring and Redbud Trees, The Zebra, April 2020.) Pop spied me and my hot pink Fiat Spider from his mountain aerie where he had built his home to overlook the scene I was painting. He was 80 then. He drove down from his mountain home to meet the person painting the scene he loved, and he sent me a book of his poems. We became friends and remained friends until his death a few years later.

“The Black Hawk” by W. Caldwell Webb, published May 1968, West Chester, Pa.

The hawk has struck again nearby,

that black hawk from outer sky

beyond where gaze of man can look,

He folded wings and pounced and took

a friend of mine; left body whole

but clamped his talons on the soul

and circled up above our light

of life into some awful night.

Someday that black bird will aim

at entity that bears my name,

and friend of mine will lose a friend.

Yet, as I’m borne up where rays bend,

those wings might curve out clear from dark

and talons drop me on bright arc

to learn what lies behind the sun –

to find that life and death are one.

Red-tailed hawk (Photo by Ralph Johnson)

Rather than seeing the end-of-life landscape as barren and desolate, what if we saw it as the bright arc where rays bend and we learn what lies behind the sun  ̶  that life and death are one? That image soothes my mind.

Mosaic artist/photographer Nina Tisara is the founder of Living Legends of Alexandria.

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