I was sitting in an airport, somewhere, I don’t even remember which airport it was, watching two women in the row of chairs across from me.
Like most travelers these days, they were surrounded by all the necessary carry-on items: purses, a takeout bag with sandwiches for later, magazines, inflatable pillows. One of the women was in her late fifties and the other was a good bit older. And they spoke to one another in a way that made it clear they were close. The younger one was deferential to the older, caring for her, making her comfortable, asking if she needed anything.
I finally realized that the pair were mother and daughter. The daughter had had, as they say, some work done. She’d actually had a lot of work done. Her nose had been shaped and planed, bobbed just a bit. Her face had been lifted, stretched, pulled back into shape in an attempt to erase the effects of gravity and years. Her eyebrows arched upward, giving her a surprised look even as she sat staring off into space, bored, waiting for the call to board the plane. The older woman looked exactly the way you would expect a woman of her age to look. Her face had settled into a pattern of lines and shadows that told the story of a lifetime. Her skin was creased and the corner of her eyes drooped. She was still attractive but there was nothing harsh or artificially youthful about her.
Sneaking glances at them from time to time, I couldn’t help but wonder what the older woman thought when she looked at her child, at the dramatic changes in her appearance. I know when I look at my own children I see the way they’ve changed, the way they’re still changing as they mature. But even as I look at them as they are now, I see the babies they were. I see the familiar tilt of a chin, the combination of features inherited from both of their parents and from relatives they never knew. I see the way each of my children, even as they are distinctly different, bear some indefinable resemblance to one another. And something deep within me reacts, softens and warms as I look at them, responding to the familiar faces of beloved babies even as I take in the faces of young adults.
I suspect the same is true for my children, that when they look at me they mark the way I am no longer the young woman I was in the photos that hang on the wall or in the scraps of childhood memories they carry, but I am still, even as I grow older, me.
The women boarded their plane. I got on mine. But they left me wondering about the grace of aging, and how sad it might be to lose a familiar face.
Cheryl-Anne Millsap writes for The Spokesman-Review. Her essays can be heard on Spokane Public Radio and on public radio stations across the country. She is the author of “Home Planet: A Life in Four Seasons” and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org