Growing older is quite a privilege. It means that we have survived this far, unlike many other people who once lived.
Perhaps it is vanity that comes between us and the way we look as we age, making us wonder why we do not look the same today as we did last year, or ten years ago, or many years ago. Yet I would not want to be young again. I enjoy the pleasures of having a longer memory.
What ages do you consider your ancestors to be in your imagination when you explore their lives?
Our grandparents were not always old people. Our parents were not always adults. Sometimes, our parents and grandparents may forget we are not still children!
Names and Faces
In daily life, I often remember faces more than names, especially when I recognise familiar features. The picture I use for my blog profile happens to change quite frequently, too, reflecting the physical and emotional changes life presents to me when I look in the mirror each day while cleaning my teeth. Sometimes the picture I use for my online profile is not of me at all.
Until the orthodontist intervened, my teeth were like those of my father. Now I have teeth like my mother.
I have green eyes. My brother has blue eyes. My sister has brown eyes. We have been assured that we share the same parentage.
Each one of my closest relatives prefers to live quietly. Is that just a general sign of growing older or something yet to be understood from our genes?
At a deeper level, identity really has very little to do with either names or faces. It is frequently a complicated and confusing topic for many people. Is your identity based on your relationships with other people, past and present (and future), rather than the name you are known by or the way you look?
Which of your relatives looks the most like you? Are you an identical twin or triplet? Even if you were a single birth, do you mainly see yourself in the mirror or the features of one of your parents, aunts or uncles?
My mother is beginning to resemble her mother, Dorothy, now. She looks and acts in a way that is similar to how I remember my grandmother being when I was a child. It makes me think my grandmother is still with us, even though she died over a decade ago at the age of 92.
People used to say that I looked more like my father but now they say that I look a lot like my mother. My mother thinks I look like one of my father's relatives, a person my mother does not particularly like much!
My father's mother, Alice, is still alive. She looks the way I remember her mother being when I was a small child. My great grandmother, Annie, was a high spirited and resourceful woman, just like the sprightly 94 year old Alice.
Annie was the only great grandparent I ever knew.
Youth and time
Older people can often seem boring to the young. The present and future can appear to be so much more interesting than the past, especially when you do not have much of a past yourself.
Old people tend to tell the same old stories over and over again, in my experience. When I was growing up, no-one ever thought to ask questions about why particular stories were told, and where else the tales might have lead, and why other topics were never discussed.
When I was younger, the past was something for old people. I thought just the present and the future were for me. Now I relate to time in a different way.
Mirrors, and the comments of others, can only tell us a small part about ourselves. Our beliefs, values, tastes and interests are part of our social selves, yet will those aspects of our identities stay the same for long? What does your family history tell you about yourself, and your identity?
Our knowledge of the world shapes us too, as does the way we communicate. I have noticed that many people's blogs mainly consist of pictures and digital gadgets. They really say very little about the minds behind those online expressions of identity.
As I often use a dial-up modem connection to visit blogs, the download time is sometimes so frustratingly slow that I go elsewhere if a blog takes too long to appear on my screen. It is one of the reasons I will usually choose small pictures, or none at all, in my blog posts.
How do you travel online, and through time? And would your ancestors approve?
Update - December 2010:
There are many online resources that may assist you to reflect upon age, time, identity and the life experiences of your ancestors. Here are a few you may find interesting:
Wikipedia article on the year 1906
(The year my maternal grandparents were born)
1906 in Australia
1906 United Kingdom general election
1906 San Francisco earthquake
Very short film of Trooping the Colour, 1906 - in colour!
Film - London in 1903
Enrico Caruso singing in 1902
Cielo e mar, Ponchielli, La Gioconda
Marie Lloyd singing in 1903
That's how the little girl got on
Early coal mining photographs
Have you seen my blog about identity?
By Any Other Name