Underneath my mask, my face has grown old. Forced into stillness for the first time in my life, the muscles around my mouth lapsed into furrows. For a year and a half, I rarely smiled and often went without speaking for days. Without my cat, I would have been absolutely silent much too often. Now that quiet time can be read in the bottom half of my face. Its cracks and crevasses look like a dry river bed.

When I was in a Tucson bar this spring, waiting to place my Michelada order, the man beside me began to chat. At a certain point he said he was vaccinated and removed his mask. I said I was too and pulled mine away. He winced. Obviously the upper part of my face looks younger than the lower. 

“I thought I would always stay like this,” one friend of mine said recently. She’d thought she’d reached her pinnacle of aging in her mid-sixties just as I did when I was that age, but time has tricks we’ve never dreamed of. Just when we tell ourselves, “Oh, this isn’t so bad,” another part of our body begins to wear out, never to return.

I feel lucky. My personal autumn has been a long one that’s lasted twenty years. Now my wrinkled underarms and sagging flesh tell me that I’ve hit winter. Since this has never been my favorite season, I need to go to work.

None of us can let our flames go out, even though covid has made this a cruel time to be alive for people of every age, from infancy right through to the beginning of the end. Yet we all have to foster our love of life. 

Yesterday I walked through Belltown, a part of Seattle I’ve despised ever since the spit and celotex buildings began to encroach upon the elegance of old brick. Now glass and steel towers have been thrown into the mix, their height throwing off the neighborhood’s scale, as they have all over the parts of downtown that are unprotected by preservation laws.

The old buildings that remain take on a deeper luster when they’re measured against what’s been lost and I’ve learned to treasure the sight of them, rather than whining about what was destroyed. 

Planted in the middle of a relatively unscathed block is Macrina Bakery, still alive, selling bread and coffee. Sunlight poured its golden warmth through the open windows when I bought my loaf of onion rye and I felt as if I stood in the middle of a sacrament. As age brings its slower pace, the beauty of the world shows itself in small ways that nourishes us when we take the time to notice them. As Tove Jansson said “…do not tire, never lose interest, never grow indifferent–lose your invaluable curiosity and you let yourself die. It’s as simple as that.”