A thousand words

A thousand words

Rosanne Skopp

And so, the other day, I received a message from the editor of this publication. It was about my headshot, that small
postage-stamp-sized photo that is attached to my posts. Notice I did not use the word “adorned.” At my stage of life, no picture would or could adorn anything. I use the word “attached” with deliberation. It’s a pareve word, and my photo can, at best, be described as pareve.

I really didn’t mind the original picture. It was defined mostly by what it wasn’t. It wasn’t clear or sharp. I could have been any adult ranging from about 40 on up. My new picture is clear and not ambiguous at all. You can see that I am an old lady. You can share my wrinkles and my multiple chins and a neck that used to be known as stiff but is now merely as mushy as Jell-O, as pliant as a crepe. Old age has caught up with me, and my new picture, affixed at left, makes that abundantly clear.

Some people rely on their headshots to enhance their actual appearance, to show their excellent orthodontia and superb facelifts and, of course, their professional makeup and hair styling. Alas, I am a braces dropout, making a radical choice at age 13 to self-remove my braces. And as to the facelift, I’ve had surgery and don’t especially enjoy it, so a facelift is not in my cards. I’ve never had professional makeup applied and my hairstyling, mostly done by my husband or a barber, is, well, just primitive. But if I ever fooled you into thinking I was a younger person, I do apologize. The new headshot should dispel any such notions.

Believe me, I do occasionally wish I actually was that younger person. No one feels my old age as much as I do. Everywhere from my now platypus feet, which used to love high-heeled shoes and now are most content when barefoot, to my totally gray mop of hair, to the aforementioned wrinkles and the many many disabilities of age. I used to climb stairs for exercise. Now each stair is a mountain! I used to have a sharp memory, a bridge player’s ability to remember which cards were played. Forget about it now! Just forget it, as I always do.

I do remember, however, Robert Browning’s famous quote, from his poem Rabbi Ben Ezra, “Grow old along with me. The best is yet to be.” Dear Mr. Browning, I doubt you will get this message but, wow, were you wrong! By now you must know that!

I’ve previously reported that I am a committed reader of obituaries. They are endlessly fascinating as they abbreviate a human life into a few paragraphs, usually glorifying the deceased by showing them as they rarely were in life. Now I focus on the headshots that often accompany the texts. Some are truthful and age appropriate. Others, however, are so old as to look like a movie from the, say, 1940s. If Granny died at age 96, and her picture shows her curled dark hair in a flowery dress with big shoulder pads, something just doesn’t compute. Or how about 100-year-old Gramps with his glossy black pompadour? Looks like his high school graduation picture to me.

The person is dead and the vanity lives on. We humans are perplexing. No dog or cat would be at all concerned about a puppy or kitten photo on his death notice.

But I’m seriously confused as to why people do that. Really. If someone died in old age, why show a picture that’s 50 or more years old? It is kind of ridiculous.

I guess I’m comfortable in my own old-age, except I still cannot believe that I’m as old as I am. It happened so fast. My mirror is probably to blame. No matter how much older I get, it still shows the same person, about age 35 or 40. I look at it every day when I’m brushing my teeth or combing my hair or putting on lipstick. I’m unchanged. The reflection is not of an 83-year-old. It’s merely me. I cannot explain this phenomenon. But except for Dorian Gray’s mirror and the stepmother in Snow White, mirrors normally are pretty truthful. I cannot explain why mine has such a mind of its own.

I truly do not want to be younger. After all, I’m a great-grandmother, an accomplishment that makes me exceedingly proud and happy, even if it’s just about always associated with old age. I could not have reached that status at age 40. And the other day, an interaction with the youngest of our little boys, Lior, 122 days shy of his second birthday, drove this home to me. It just warmed my heart when he saw me, all masked up in public. He was confused until I lifted the mask. He smiled broadly, giggled, and yelled, “Ro!” What a glorious moment for this old lady! I wouldn’t trade that for all the tea in China, or all the felafel in Israel.

Here’s wishing all those little ones, and their parents and grandparents, aunts, uncles and cousins, ad maya v esrim, bli ayin hara!

My passports and my driver’s license all have headshots too. When I am checking in for a flight and I whip out the old passport photo on the newish passport, there’s always a temporary pause as the agent looks more closely. Where’s the brown hair of days gone by? Where’s the unwrinkled brow?

The license is an even more complex story. Height, now down two inches. Weight up 20 pounds. Only the name is the same.

It’s also abundantly clear that others see me as an ancient. It happens all the time. People are more careful about bumping into me or pushing ahead in line. They see someone who is vulnerable and fragile, breakable in fact. The truth is that I’ve already broken a shoulder and a pelvis, and no doubt more body parts will follow. I don’t want to prognosticate, but both my mother and her father, Pop, suffered with broken hips.

Furthermore, I’ve got some accouterments that you cannot see in my headshot. You can see my eyeglasses, but you cannot see that a cataract was recently removed from my left eye. I also don’t think you can see that I’m now a proud new wearer of hearing aids. But they’re there all right. And, amazingly, I can now hear!

That’s all you need to know about my new headshot!

Rosanne Skopp of West Orange is a wife, mother of four, grandmother of 14, and great-grandmother of three. She is a graduate of Rutgers University and a dual citizen of the United States and Israel. She is a lifelong blogger, writing blogs before anyone knew what a blog was!

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