Portrait by Tao Nguyen

Monday, July 23, 2012


It happens before you know it. A glance in the mirror shows the beginning of age lines. Traces of gray hair have suddenly cropped up. You awake one morning, get out of bed and feel aches and pains in your joints when you walk. While shaving or moisturizing, you observe your neck is starting to look like a wattle. You can’t stop it. Aging is part of living and if you consider the alternative, a few wrinkles and some joint aches aren’t so bad. But why, you lament, why can’t you stay young forever? This is a question people have pondered for centuries while searching for eternal youth. British author James Hilton wrote of Shangri-La in his novel “Lost Horizon.” He created the residents of Shangri-La as almost immortal, living years beyond the normal lifespan while they aged slowly in appearance. For thousands of years tales of a fountain of youth have been written. Spanish explorer Ponce de Leon was searching for the fountain of youth when he traveled to what is now Florida.
“Forever Young”
By Bob Dylan

"May God bless and keep you always
May your wishes all come true
May you always do for others
And let others do for you
May you build a ladder to the stars
And climb on every rung
May you stay forever young
Forever young, forever young
May you stay forever young.

May you grow up to be righteous
May you grow up to be true
May you always know the truth
And see the lights surrounding you
May you always be courageous
Stand upright and be strong
May you stay forever young
Forever young, forever young
May you stay forever young."

We’re bombarded every day with messages to eat healthy foods, take vitamins, exercise, don’t smoke, apply sunscreen before going outside. Tummy tucks, liposuction, facelifts and laser treatments pay college tuition for dermatologist’s kids. I do my best to cook whole foods, moisturize with SPF 30, get regular exercise and floss at night. But I admit there are times when I catch a glimpse of myself in the mirror and don’t recognize myself. I still feel like a twenty year old inside but the reality is, I’m not.

In “Good Fortune” I write about Michael’s and Wu’s feelings about the changes they see in their outward appearance as they realize they’re aging. I introduce Michael after he’s suddenly laid off his executive job and finds himself literally thrown into a pool of much younger job seekers who have a definite edge over him. He confesses his frustration to his friend Eric:

“Going on job interviews at my age sucks. Twenty applicants show up for one lousy opening. Most of them are kids compared to me. Hell, I’m twice their age. I feel old and . . . well . . . useless. Like my time has come and gone and there’s no future for me anymore.”
“Bullshit. You've got experience, those kids have got acne.”
Michael placed his spoon on the table and stared at it for a few seconds, and then his eyes met Eric’s. “Well, a lot of good a clear complexion does me. I haven't had a single response to the resumes I've submitted.”

Later, when he’s contemplating whether or not to take a temporary job while he’s figuring out how he’s going to open his own business, Michael steps from the shower and regards his image:

            Above the bathroom sink, steam misted the mirror blocking his reflection. He used the corner of his towel and rubbed a circle in the middle; his reflection stared back at him. It was apparent his recent setback had taken its toll because his face looked slightly older. He noticed a certain edge to his expression that wasn’t there before, enhanced by the small worry lines that had begun to form between his eyebrows. Well, there was nothing he could do about that. Since he would be interviewing soon, he hoped his life experience and maturity would count in his favor.

Like Michael, Wu is facing his own personal challenges and one morning while shaving, he notices how the passage of time is changing him.

            While he lathered up to shave, Wu scrutinized his reflection in the bathroom mirror and noticed the beginning of fine age lines fanning his eyes that would inevitably turn into deep wrinkles like his father's. He was struck with the harsh realization that time was passing for him, too.

Beyond the cosmetic changes Wu observes in himself, he has deep feelings about his father growing old. He expresses his concern, but his father has a quite different perspective:

“Son, I appreciate your concern about my health, but you must accept the fact that all men grow old. I cannot prevent time from passing, and if I could, I wouldn’t want to. Life has its own rhythm that conforms to our daily existence. It changes with us as we grow and mature. For most of my life I have worked hard, and now, I am getting ready to slow down my pace and take the needed time to rest. I have earned that right, which did not come easily. Do not deny an old man the reward he has labored toward his entire life.”
Until that moment, Wu hadn't realized how much he had taken his father for granted, or that he wanted him to remain healthy and vigorous so he would never die and leave him, like his mother. Even though they clashed for years, his father was always there, a solid presence he now recognized he would lose. This sudden realization forced him to acknowledge that as much as he wanted to change the course of life and keep his father forever young, he knew it was beyond his human power to do so.
Accept the change; that's what Father is saying. I’ll try, but it feels as if he is asking too much of me.
Sensing Wu's distress, Tong addressed his son in a calm voice. “In due time, your own sons will become grown men who will feel all that you are experiencing now as you observe how old and withered this body of mine has become. If you can learn acceptance of old age and how it transforms those you love who were once strong and full of spirit into frail tired souls, when it becomes necessary, you will be able to guide your boys with love and compassion as they struggle to accept the changes they perceive in you, when you follow in my footsteps.”
Wu approached his father’s bed. “If that's what you wish, Father, I'll try. But please be honest. Is it only old age that ails you? If you are suffering any pain, any pain at all, I want you to see the acupuncturist.” When Tong protested, Wu added, “At least let Anna brew you some medicinal tea to make you feel better.”
Tong wouldn't hear of it. “Nonsense! Occasionally my joints ache, but I have nothing hurting me in the way you fear. I’m slowing down, so if I work less and keep myself warm, that will be my best tonic. My biggest comforts in life now are a bowl of hot noodles and watching my grandsons tumble on the floor the way Cho and I once did when we were boys.”
It was impossible for Wu to imagine the two old men as young rambunctious boys and he smiled at the thought of his own sons being the same as his Uncle Cho and Father once were.

Yes, we were all young children who took our youth for granted. Now that we’re older and wiser, let’s be accepting of the aging process and the knowledge that brings us. If you have unfinished business with someone, do what you can to make peace between you while you still have the opportunity. After exchanging harsh words with his father, Wu watches him walk away:

Tong turned his back on his son. On the way to his room his slippers made an angry slapping sound on the wooden floor. With sorrow, Wu watched his father walk away thinking how he always looked old and tired, but that night especially, he detected something more, something beyond the usual air of sadness surrounding him, something that had made him unapproachable. He knew he was helpless to stop his father's grieving for his long-departed mother. Nor was he able to stop the inevitable changes that accompany aging. Time was fading the old man into the shadows, and Wu’s chance to mend the cracks in their relationship before his father’s death seemed impossibly out of reach. The realization consumed him with grief.

I choose to view aging as a positive experience. Wrinkles tell our life stories and should be cherished. Aches and pains remind me I’m alive. Each day I repeat these words: “I make peace within myself and let go of anger towards those who are unapproachable and unyielding. I’m mindful of the blessings each morning brings when I awake, and I give thanks for this day.”

Yours in good fortune,
Leslie Bratspis

"Good Fortune" is available on Amazon.com & Kindle, Barnes & Noble.com & Nook
Goodreads.com & Smashwords.com

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