Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Old Things

Wabi Sabi: Wabi ... connotes rustic simplicity, freshness or quietness, and can be applied to both natural and human-made objects, or understated elegance. It can also refer to quirks and anomalies arising from the process of construction, which add uniqueness and elegance to the object.Sabi is beauty or serenity that comes with age, when the life of the object and its impermanence are evidenced in its patina and wear, or in any visible repairs.".....Wabi Sabi, from Wikipedia

I came across this concept in an article last night in one of those magazines whose mission it is to provide us with ways to cope with our lives and achieve some balance and peace. The author encourages the reader to abandon all attempts at perfection and embrace life's anomolies and flaws as the real essence of beauty; to cherish the inevitable evidence of wear, time and human limitations that we seem to wage war against every day. I thought of my aging face and body; I was just standing in front of an aisle full of "anti-aging" potions at the drugstore, reading labels and wondering, hoping against hope that some of them really would turn back the hands of time. Succumbing to these moments of vanity and insecurity is something we all do, and of course these products cash in on that. Our Western preoccupation with perfection keeps us anxiously wondering if we, and all that we have, are good enough.

My face is getting more unique as time goes by. My artificial eye is sinking in a little, not so that the casual observer would notice, but I can tell. Because it doesn't close all the way, I sleep with it pushed into my pillow, and the left side of my face bears the lines and wrinkles that have been pressed into it permanently. When I wear makeup, the watery discharge that comes from my fake eye smears it. My eyelashes stick out at a different angle because of the change in the shape of my eyeball. Add to this the consequences of a lifetime in the sun, smoking and general self-abuse, and you have the face of a somewhat leathery woman who looks older than her years. At least, this is what I see. Most days, I try to spend as little time as I can in front of the mirror, but when I am confronted with the idea of aging and beauty and my drift away from any hope of regaining my youthful symmetry and normalcy, it can be depressing. As I write this, I feel a little revulsion at my vanity and shallowness, but this is the truth of it. Not all of the time, you understand. But sometimes.

Back to wabi sabi-those of us who like to go to antique malls and find treasures with the ghosts of their former owners inherent in them know all about that...we run our hands over the soft patina of the back of the wooden chair, the color made lighter by so many hands doing the same thing. I toured an old country estate last weekend, and the staircase railing, made of brass, was shiny -bright at the base, where your hand would rest at the beginning of your climb. Likewise the knees of the huge Buddhas at the Art Institute. My old restaurant ware, discovered a piece or two at a time like rare wildflowers, has worn glaze from silverware and little imperfections in the green trim. My old Japanese chest, brought back from my ex-husband's brother during the Korean war, has many chips and dings along its edges from half a century of use. My favorite shoes are bent and molded uniquely, as only my feet could do, reflecting thousands of steps, some of them taken with people I love, others doing hard work, the feet inside thankful for their soft insides, holding them gently all the while. I could go on and on....old books, the paper covers long gone and the cloth of the bindings threadbare from many hands cradling them; the slightly undulating walls and creeky wooden floors of my old farmhouse; my grandmother's beautiful hands. All of these things contain, in their wear and their imperfections, the stories of the people who loved them. It is this that we treasure and value, because only the loving use of them could produce such beautiful uniqueness. It is my prayer that I can see my face with this kind of love.