Recently I put on the wall above my desk two photos from old newspapers, one photo of an old Russian woman voting in December 2007 in western Russia, Alexandra Zhaldybina, 101 years old. I stuck this photo to the wall because her face is leathern, marked, a line for each year of her life, I think. Black-rimmed glasses help her see out from underneath her black scarf, her pursed lips show an intensity of thought and significance of the moment. Her face is beautiful in its great age. Putting her picture on the wall gives her a new life about which she knows nothing, for I’m sure she is no longer living and I have no connection with her other than my feeling that she deserves to be remembered for her determination and the beauty of the traces of her long life in her face..
The other photo shows a brother and sister reunited after not seeing each other for 80 years. The man, identified as Benjamin Feinstein is also 101 years old. His sister, Sara Pyatigorsky is 87. She holds him against herself, lays her face on his forehead, and the two are weeping and laughing at the same time, their faces equally lined, the skin rough and spotted. They, too, are beautiful in their craggyness. I am sure their lives were full of turmoil and pain and the full range of human emotion. Their faces reveal the many years of their lives.I’ve saved this clipping since 1994, and only last week did I decide to put it on my wall because… I am not sure why.
Why do I like looking at these images of these old, very old, people? Why, when I am out on the street do I notice the old? But I also notice the young, I notice how they move so easily, how moving seems the most natural thing in the world, fluid like a stream of water winding down a hilside. Why do I notice the young women laughing and jostling each other on the sidewalk? Because I want to remember, I try to remember how that feels. I try to imagine walking without ever feeling stiff, pretend I have fluidity, thinking it might help me walk better. And so I put photos of old people on my wall, for any of these confusing reasons that don’t make sense in my head but make sense in my belly.
When it comes down to the real reason, perhaps it's just that I love looking at those faces that are each their own landscape, faces that tell a story.
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