082aging

Once, when I was about 12, my father came into my room holding a book. He was in his forties at the time. “I want to show you something,” he said.

The book was an autobiography of the poet Robert Graves. On the front cover was a photograph of Graves as a young man: black-haired, handsome, and full of vitality and hope. My father turned the book over to show a photograph of the present-day Graves: hair white, face wrinkled, eyes shrouded in sorrow.

“Look at this,” my father said, turning the book over and over, showing me the startling transformation of youth to old age and back again. “You can’t understand this,” he said. He dropped the book on my bed, and, just as suddenly as he had come into my room, he turned and left.

I had not said anything. I sensed my father’s awkwardness and the poignancy of his effort, but he was right. I didn’t really understand, any more than I could understand Suzuki Roshi years later when he spoke of enjoying his old age. Now, at 64, I do understand, and I thank my father for his long-ago effort. The old understand the young better than the other way around. My father wanted to reach out across the gulf separating old age from youth and tap me with the magic wand of this hard-won knowledge, but he couldn’t. He could only show me the two photographs and wish the best for me as I set off on the journey to adulthood.

When Suzuki said “Everything changes,” he could just as easily have said “Everything ages.” That is what my father was trying to show me.

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