Friday, May 30, 2008

Growing Old

I'm learning something new this week about growing old. And please, no e-mails assuring me that at 69 I am not old. I'm proud of these years, and I've earned them. Although we live in a country that glorifies youth and denigrates age, I've always preferred being around older people than younger. But the older I get there will be fewer and fewer people older than me, and with that comes a psychic cost.

On Sunday someone I've known for more than 40 years died. David Gahr was an extraordinary photographer who took the photographs of me on the cover of the two albums I did for Vanguard as well as the jacket photographs of me on a number of my books. He was primarily known as a photographer of musicians - folk, jazz, rock - and if you go through you album/cd collections and look at who took the photographs, I can almost guarantee that you'll see his name.

David was 16 years older than I am and was like my older brother. He was the one who helped me buy my first camera, who let me go with him through the streets of New York when he went out to photograph. If not for David I would not be a photographer now.

A photograph is actually the picture of the relationship of the photographer to the person or object being photographed. A photograph does not tell you as much as about the subject as it does about how the photographer feels about the subject. It was through David's photographs that I learned joy and something about what it is to love. In the early 70's I put together a book of his photographs (and a few of mine)along with poems I wrote based on the photographs. The book is called Who I Am. It has been out of print for decades but I see copies on line. If you want to experience the depth of one man's humanity, look at David's photographs in that book.

But with his death at age 85 I am experiencing not only the loss of an important person in my life but more, I am experiencing the loss of sharing memories that belonged only to the two of us. At age 69 the generation before me is beginning to die, as well as my contemporaries. And with these deaths there comes an increasing loneliness. The older you become the more memories you have, paradoxically, the fewer with whom you can share those memories.

But then I must stop and smile because the older I get, the less I remember, and maybe that's how Nature gently balances the losses we experience in the deaths of those with whom whom we've shared a lifetime.

As much as I will miss David, my gratitude for having him as a friend for so many years is far, far greater.

© 2008 by Julius Lester

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