Every year across the country there are millions of photos taken and shared at the beginning of the school year, marking the passage of time in a unique scholastic font. This happens in our household every September, and gradually the number of photo subjects decreases with each matriculation. Our youngest ones are in grade 12, and they went for their actual graduation photos this weekend. That just seems weird and too soon, but it is a fact of life.
We mark births, marriages, graduations, birthdays, anniversaries, and reunions with photos and proud social media posts and emails. They seem like happy things to document and we take photos and send details simply as a matter of course.
But there are other natural milestones that we are less likely to mark and share: an elderly person’s last day in their own home, the beginning of the last day in the office, the last surgery performed, the slow or not-so-slow change from brown to grey, the first set of cheaters, the last moments of life. I mean, people do document these things, but sharing them proudly seems a bit more edgy, or taboo, or not fun, or just in bad taste.
I’ve been thinking that we should honor these transitions too. As humans and biological creatures, we are always transitioning. In life, as we get older, people tend to just become more invisible, especially women. We exist, we keep on going, but for most people, it’s as though there is a mute on being interesting enough to warrant updates, or we think that maybe because we aren’t as youthful we wouldn’t want to appear unattractive, having let ourselves go. We kind of become hangers onto our kids’ or associates’ transitions and ignore our own. Think about those lists of people we lost that they trot out at the Oscars every year. Most of those people lived for much longer after their careers than during them, but we don’t think about that part of their life as being newsworthy or important.
In a medical career, we go from new recruit to junior staff to senior staff to retired (hopefully) emeritus. The time during which we are working passes by, and except for maybe some posed shots at a retirement party, or lifetime achievement awards, we usually don’t mark the declining transitions in work except en passant.
I don’t know. I guess as I see myself inching closer to retirement, I want to start looking at these natural, gentle declining transitions as being just as positive as starting a new job, or getting a promotion, or having a baby. Anyone can be young; not everyone gets to be old. I want to have pictures of my wrinkles and grey hair in all their non-glory. I want to know that as I get a thicker middle and become more hobblykneed that I’ll accept that as a kind of marker of making it to a certain stage and be okay with the consequences and decisions I’ll have to make. I want a party when I go into an old age home, when it eventually happens. And I want someone to tell the story of my last days even if that transition is not pretty.
Life is short, shorter for some than others. Careers and families transition naturally, like a bell curve of what we think of notability. Let’s not avoid embracing the downhill side of that curve. Sunsets are often longer and more beautiful than sunrises.