A friend's new profile photo appeared on my Facebook feed, a friend I've known since the late-1990s. Honestly, my first reaction was, "He's aged a bit." But then, looking back at the photo a moment longer, I thought, "He's actually still as beautiful as I thought he was almost two decades ago." And the beauty isn't just a remark on the physicality. It's an observance of the person, of the soul. Imperfect? Yes. But still beautiful.
Ageing is an odd thing. It's been hard to escape the markers of feeling older because of the evolving physical landscape of places one once knew. The site of the hospital where I was born now sustains an apartment high-rise. Where once I knew fields at the edge of town, there is now a thriving shopping area with residences and, possibly, a new high school on the horizon. Many favorite shops and restaurants have come and gone over the years.
The changing of insentient things during the passage of time is one way to mark age, though I'm also reaching a point where it's now people who are helping notate the progression of age. My friends and I are older. Some are even dead. All this before (most of us) have turned 40. It's a good reminder of the companion (or predator, depending on how you look at it) that we refer to as time.
At my 20th high school reunion earlier this year, I remember looking around at everyone, noticing how we'd all aged, and also couldn't help but slipping into the maudlin diversion of wondering who wouldn't or wouldn't still be around for our 30th, 40th and 50th reunions. Looking at folks who I'd known, off and on, for some twenty-four years (or longer), I couldn't help but be struck by how similar they seemed to their former selves, yet also how different.
I met a lot of people in the mid-late '90s after coming out of the closet. Many of these people I still know and communicate with. Yes, we look a little different now than we did then, and that's a scenario likely only to become more pronounced, yet, perhaps through nostalgia-colored glasses, they don't seem all that different. Perhaps that is what occurred with my viewing of the aforementioned friend's profile picture?
We all do change over the course of time, there is no denying that. Our bodies age at varying rates, our life experiences alter the surface-level ways in which we view the world (or perhaps go deeper?), but at our core, I think we remain the same. As Tennyson wrote, "That which we are, we are." I think that's what I'm seeing with old friends. I am not looking at who they are now, but who they have always been.
In all their imperfect beauty.