Written in 2012
We in the family called him “Tad.” He was my mother’s first cousin, one that from the tone of her voice when she spoke of him or from the light in her eyes when she saw him, was perhaps her favorite. A pretty good artist, Tad once responded to Mama’s commission to paint for her a fairly large rendition in oil of a still life of magnolia blossoms. A better painting was his depiction called “Autumn at Tiger Bay,” the memory of the woods around their ancestral farm. Not only talented, Tad was incredibly good-looking. A head of coal-black hair that never turned to very much gray, sharp features, dark eyes with a kind look all gave him beauty.
Tad—Calvin King Burroughs was the real name he bore—died recently at the age of 93. His son sent me a bevy of photos taken throughout his father’s life. One of the earliest shows an incredibly handsome youth in army uniform with his company in World War II. In other snapshots he is playing with children, then grandchildren, dressed in a dinner jacket on a cruise perhaps, showing up for graduations, plucking oranges from a tree, sporting a cowboy hat, sitting in a backyard with extended family all around, holding the hand of his wife, a graceful man in his old age.
Not all of us are so lucky as Tad. Bodies fall apart sometimes at a very early age. Bones snap, muscles weaken, teeth gray, brain cells atrophy. Few of us, in youth or mid-life or even well past retirement age, figure that we will be among those who fade and wither away. We imagine that we will escape the ravages of age, or most of them. Go to a nursing home? Not I! Lose my memory? Not if I can help it. Become stooped, hard of hearing, bleary-eyed? Never, as long as I am committed to being young. Tad was lucky that way. I talked to him a couple of years ago. His memory was incredibly sharp. His good looks never succumbed entirely to wrinkles and spots.
Fighting mortality, falling for one promise after another than we can beat death, is the chief human preoccupation, the seed of all our neuroses, the foundation of our gargantuan schemes for amassing power and control. All of it is about staving off the inevitability of death. Saving us from aging is a growth industry.
Mortality is a gift, one of the Creator’s finest. We are born, we live, we die. Why fight it? The issue is not how long we can look young, but how we can live every day to the fullest, gracefully aging all the way.
© Frank Gasque Dunn, 2012