"As the days dwindle down to a precious few..."

Wrinkles

W. H. Auden

Wrinkles

Wrinkles. When I look into the mirror I see accordion folded eyelids, furrows, north-to-south, in my cheeks, baggie eyes, sagging mouth, lined forehead, and spots of brown, large and small, splattered across my face. 74 years of life displayed on my face.

Mother Teresa

Rebecca

Rebecca is the daughter of a neighbor who, when she was young, I would meet as she walked her dog in our neighborhood. She always was a sunbeam; engaging, mature beyond her years, thoughtful, and I delighted in our chance meetings. Rebecca’s life took her to Columbia University, where she received a degree in English, which was followed by a Master’s degree at Oxford, a Ph.D. at Berkeley, and then a position at Princeton. Obviously brilliant. But much more than that. She was kind, made life-friends at every stop, and possessed a generous spirit and a deep commitment to education.   

Rebecca died, this August, of a rare cancer. She was 37 years old.1

Wrinkles. I gaze into the mirror and I see wrinkles. No longer smooth-faced, filled with youthful promise, but old.

Lincoln

Richard

Richard was my best friend in high school and college. We were joined at the hip; he was the yin to my yang. We lived together for several years and joyfully participated in many youthful antics that are the source of fond memories. Richard had no enemies. He was affable, smart, funny, and unpretentious. He conferred humorous nick-names on me that many of our friends adopted. In our later years he still referred to me by one of his favorites: Bag.

Richard died 9 years ago. He has missed the last 9 years of his daughter’s growth into adulthood.

Wrinkles. I peer into the mirror and see wrinkles. Time’s signature on my body, alerting me to the time, past.

Maya Angelou

Bill

Bill was my best friend for 50 years. He was a pilot in the Korean war, a flight instructor for the Air Force, an accomplished classical musician, and returned to school to complete a Ph.D. in psychology at 48 years of age. His father died when he was 14 and he had a special sensitivity and understanding of the struggles of youth. He touched the lives of several generations of young people, both aspiring pilots and troubled college students. We spent many, many hours in conversation for many, many years. He changed my life. Profoundly. He is grafted onto my very being.

Bill died 3 years ago.

Wrinkles. I examine myself in the mirror and see wrinkles. Creases of laughter, grief, worry, joy carved into my skin.

Einstein

Roland

Roland graced my life with his friendship for over 35 years. He was a Marine lieutenant for 2 tours of combat duty in Viet Nam, returned and acquired a Ph.D. in French philosophy, and became a widely published professor. We shared much: Firstborn sons, born into blue-collar families, surviving in rather rough neighborhoods, and the first to attend college of anyone in our extended families. And we loved baseball. We sought wisdom, solace, and understanding to life’s dilemmas and challenges by reading, discussing, and arguing our way through the works of some of the West’s greatest thinkers. We also were both haunted by death.

Roland died last year.

Three dear friends and  a remarkable young woman. Dead. Gone. Forever.

Wrinkles. I contemplate my image in the mirror. I am grateful for having lived long enough to have known these fellow travelers, and to have my face etched with wrinkles. And, as my journey’s end rushes toward me, I am comforted by my wrinkles.

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Shakespeare Sonnet 73

That time of year thou mayst in me behold
When yellow leaves, or none, or few, do hang
Upon those boughs which shake against the cold,
Bare ruin’d choirs, where late the sweet birds sang.
In me thou see’st the twilight of such day
As after sunset fadeth in the west,
Which by and by black night doth take away,
Death’s second self, that seals up all in rest.
In me thou see’st the glowing of such fire
That on the ashes of his youth doth lie,
As the death-bed whereon it must expire,
Consum’d with that which it was nourish’d by.
This thou perceiv’st, which makes thy love more strong,
To love that well which thou must leave ere long.

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  1. A gut-punch: Here is Rebecca’s blog where she wrote about her struggles at several points during her treatment: https://shxperienced.blogspot.com/

2 Comments

  1. Matthew

    As I grow older, I have come to understand that the memory of those I have loved and lost, while sad, is also a great comfort. That sadness brings them back into my life and lets me embrace them once again.

    • Brian Vandenberg

      Very wise, Matthew, thank you. Brian

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