We were standing in the waiting line at a visitation a few weeks ago, my mom and I. It was for the mother of one of mom's old high school and college friends. There were a lot of people there, and the line was moving slowly. A middle-aged woman approached us, creating a moment of recognition for mom and her. After talking briefly, the woman walked off, and mom mentioned how she'd been a high school classmate. Mom also said, "She pretty much looks the same."
Now, I was a little thrown by my mom's remark about her old classmate. I could have pressed her about the comment, but didn't. The time and place seemed inappropriate. But I was curious. This woman, though she looked fairly innocuous and unassuming, by no means looked as though she'd just come out of high school. She looked, well, like a middle-aged woman. No harm in that, however, I wondered what mom had meant by how the woman pretty much looked the same. Was it just a turn-of-phrase?
I was reminded, then, of my own, perhaps clouded, view of classmates from days of yore. It's creeping-up on twenty years since I graduated high school. Living in the same community where I went to school means running into a lot of folks from school days. More than once, I've thought that some of those former classmates have held-up really well. In fact, I may even have echoed mom's words to myself whenever I saw them.
'He/she pretty much looks the same.'
Except that I've had reality checks on certain occasions. At the annual Roger Ebert Film Festival here in Champaign, I'll often see Dan, from high school. I swear, he looks just the same today as he did 20 years ago. I mentioned this to Ashley once, pointing Dan out, and Ashley's befuddled response was, "Really? He looks like a 35-year-old man to me." Of course, I couldn't see it. Same goes for Jared, another old classmate. And even Ashley will admit that our friend Amanda (whom he's known for 13 years, and I've known for 17) is aging exceptionally well.
But is all of this talk of people with Dorian Gray portraits hanging in their backrooms just that... talk? Are we mis-guided by some weird sense of timelessness? If so, then why? Why does my mom see a girl from high school, and I see a middle-aged-woman? Who do I see a teenager, and Ashley sees a guy in his thirties? Odd, sometimes, the perception of time and age.