Only since my return to the States have I realized that my life as an expat has been shaded by my field experiences. To me death is close enough to touch.
But to Americans who share my life in California, death and aging is a topic not near to their heart, not part of their daily awareness (except avoidance of it).

Tree Rings, a picture shot by German photographer Josef Mueller, is poignant.
He looks down as if he is the trunk counting his years of life, his rings. He is aware and conscience that each line is one more year of being. Each represents his fortitude, his statue, his growth, and his existence. But, since my return to the States this year I have observed that family and friends want ‘youth’. That American drive to be perfect means looking young, acting younger, being focused on observing themselves from the outside, not from their trunk.

My sister, an effervescent personality sparkles. She strives for her youth. She focuses on anything except aging. She loves being adventuresome, outdoorsy, sporty, and able to keep up with her 20 something children. She speaks with authority on doing now not waiting to do later, on being younger. She has young friends. She epitomizes to me the persona of a healthy woman. And, she has this youthfulness in spite of very suddenly loosing the love of her life, her husband six years past. Of anyone I would have thought my sister should have aged in minds spirit when her love of her life died. Instead she rose above his death to take care of her children, to show a face of survival, to remain youthful in action. And, because of this she has blossomed into a healthier happier boomer with healthy happy succeeding adult children. I believe her adventuresome husband is shining on her to be positive. I can’t help but admire her resilience in the fate of her loss. And, respect her for acting young at heart.

But my soul feels old. Instead of seeing youth when looking down at Josef’s tree rings, I see a life nearing death with each year. The stump of the tree cut off: Life ended. I see myself as closing in and nearing my death in the second half mid century of my life. And, I am not trying to be young. I am working to be my age, dress my age, act the part of a middle age boomer. I am very very much aware that 57 is close to 60, and 60 is on the way to 70, 80, 90, 100. I am aware I don’t look, act, or feel like a 20 something niece or nephew. I don’t feel I need to be that anymore. And, I don’t feel young. I feel every day of my age. I believe I look my age, too.

These months have made me question why one sister can have such a youthful attitude and look so amazingly effervescent, and one sister can look just her age. Whether or not others see us, as we perceive ourselves to be, is for the viewer to decide. But, our feelings and attitudes on our tree rings part and parcel of our self’s… Why? Is it our life experiences?

My sister saw her husband die way too young. I have seen people die in war, strife, floods, typhoons, and natural causes of death way too early.

My sister has lived in a country blessed with two of everything (two homes, two or more cars, two or more cats and dogs, two children but not yet two husbands! two or more swimming pools on her street, two or more gyms on her street, two or more grocery stores in a few blocks of her house, food everywhere, goods to buy easy to get, gas plentiful…). She has lived without strife, war, floods, typhoons or other harsh environmental or societal problems around her.

I instead of had seen the realities of crisis. I have seen the inner depths of ultra poverty below 50 cents a day (in most places I go under 25 cents a day). I have seen people die without medication, without safe water, without care, alone…
I have seen guns that control street corners to fend off offenders.
I have seen the harsh reality of decisions of politicians living in white towers making rules and regulations that destroy life’s of children (the USA never ratified the RIGHTS of the CHILD because we as Americans support in policy wars where children fight—). I know life from this perspective…

I am a humanitarian.
And, I have been influenced by the world.
Is my view of aging and death to be faulted?
Is my viewpoint wrong?
Should I be trying to see the world, my future differently?
I wonder if other aid workers have a similar perception?

Tree rings……..
When will my own life end?

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