Friday, March 4, 2011

Tempus Fugit

Peeling Sky, 2011

Time, you old gipsy man,

Will you not stay,

Put up your caravan

Just for one day?

Ralph Hodgson

On a day-to-day basis we can fool ourselves about a lot of things. We can even fool other people from time to time. It’s like the old fable of the frog in the hot water. You don’t notice a lot of changes when you’re living them minute-to-minute.

Like aging.

When I was younger and didn’t get as much professional respect as some of my older associates because I looked so young I wondered what I’d look like with more gray hair. Now I know. It doesn’t upset me. I don’t go to the hair stylist to get it covered up. Given the plentiful crop of graying hair on my face it would take more than a little Grecian Formula to fool anyone.

I was reminded of this the other day when I took the picture above. I drove past this mural, which is painted on the back of a motel near the oceanfront. It seems like just yesterday that the mural was new and bright. There was this guy who went around doing a lot of murals like this. The marine life artist Wyland had just painted a whale on the side of a parking deck in Norfolk. Maybe that’s what inspired him. Given our region’s strong military affiliation, patriotic themes were a given.

What struck me, though, as I looked at the mural was not the jingoistic theme, but the fact that the mural itself was fading. Some of the paint has even peeled right off the wall.

Time does not treat everyone the same way. It used to be said that ugly babies grow up to be handsome adults and that beauty ages well. I can’t say either of those is true (although some people do seem to grow into their looks). But what is clear is that time marches on.

This doesn’t have to be a bad thing. I had a hard time when I turned thirty-five. I hadn’t become the person at thirty-five that I’d imagined I’d be by that time back when I was, say, twenty-five. This is a probably guy thing. We define ourselves too much by our career success. In any event, I got over it. Forty wasn’t that big a thing. Fifty seemed a milestone, but brought nothing more tremulous than the realization that many of the things I’d lost sleep over when I was younger really weren’t worth worrying about at all.

Now, as I careen into fifty-nine, which brings me just that much closer to sixty, I practically laugh when I hear someone make a big thing about turning fifty. I know they probably can’t appreciate it yet. But if they’re lucky, they’re going to learn that turning fifty might just be the most liberating thing that’s ever happened to them.

I went back into the files to look at my original photograph of this mural. It turns out I took it eight years ago. Against the background of this peeling tableau, if all I have to complain about is more gray hair and a lower center of gravity, all I need to do is look at this mural and realize that I’m aging pretty darned well, thank you.

The Original Mural, 2003


  1. Well said. I look at photos of myself now that I hate, and think--remember, one day this one's gonna' seem really GOOD!

  2. Every time I see this mural, I say to myself that a lot of effort went into something that is so ugly. However, I really like your capture of it.