The Airport

Anything, even an airport, has to have something to recommend it, however much a stretch it sometimes is to find that something. I have to say that I do like two things about airports: watching aircraft take off (always, it seems to me, an act of outrageous optimism) and people-watching. By people-watching I do not mean poking or prying, of course; nor trying to judge a book by its cover. I keep firmly in mind that I don't have the slightest idea what any stranger's life is like, or what might be really going on inside his or her noggin. But a person with time between flights can amuse herself by noticing faces and speculating a little, knowing that what she's commiting is fiction, not fact.

Two such faces came into my ken during my latest airport jaunt, if you can use "airport" and "jaunt" in the same sentence. They were very much alike faces; they could almost have been mother and daughter. Both belonged to slim, very well-dressed, tousle-haired streaked-blond women in black. Both sported very good bones and the sort of skin that has been expensively cared for. I probably wouldn't have noticed these similarities, though, if not for another characteristic that the two faces shared: their expression. Both looked bored, dissatisfied, and more than a little petulant.

The first of these faces belonged to a young woman in her mid-twenties, I'd guess: and on her, the expression had a strange attractiveness. You've probably seen girls like her often enough in magazines: the imperious young princess with the fetchingly sulky mug. She seems to be saying "The world is my oyster; now, where's the pearl?" You sense that cavaliers are falling around her feet, bringing her fabulous gifts, feating the old derring-do to get her eyes to light up in interest and her full young mouth to smile. That was what the first face was like.

The second might have been the first face, some thirty-odd years later. I'd guess that its owner was a few years older than I am, albeit much, much better preserved. What flashed through my mind when I saw her was the line my mother used to tease us with when a child looked sulky or cross: "Darling, if the wind changes, your face will stay that way." In this woman's case, the wind had clearly changed. She looked as though bored, dissatisfied and petulant were now hardwired onto her phiz. I had the sense that I was seeing her face in repose--that this was, as it were, her default expression. The lines and sags of natural age, which no skin cream can do much about, had set this way; while she still might be able to smile, her face would naturally fall back into this expression. And it was not the expression of a happy, satisfied person. It was the face of an imperious elderly princess who'd long since got bored with the cavaliers and the gifts and the derring-do. It was a face to make you sad.

Of course I'm reading all sorts of things into these two faces that probably aren't really there, but I'm a writer: that's in my job description. It is also in my job description to try to tease some meaning out of any and all observations. A bit of C.S. Lewis passed through my mind--I think it's from _Mere Christianity_; I'll have to look it up when I get home. To paraphrase, which is all I can do in Logan on a Saturday afternoon: if I have a terrible temper, and I indulge my temper so that it gets worse and worse, I will be a very angry old woman. And if that particular life-trajectory projects beyond death and into the life to come, then I will indeed be in hell. It has been truly observed that retirement homes are full of extremely strong-minded people, because people become more themselves, not less themselves, with time. If ever there was a rationale for a good solid midlife crisis, there it is.

What kind of old woman do I want to become? What kind of face do I want people to see if they notice me in an airport? I can play "fake it till you make it" and try to play-act what I want to be, and that will do for a while, but the problem is that people tend to get stuck in the play-acting phase, because faking it is so much easier than making it. But with time, that too leads in an unpromising direction, because it turns into the Big Lie: persona and real self diverging, all the good stuff staying with the persona and all the bad stuff remaining with self. I have seen, and suffered much from, people who took that course; and the saddest thing is that it never really works. It's too hard to keep all the self successfully hidden behind the persona; inevitably, there are leaks, and sooner or later, people do figure out what's back there.

No, if I want the self I take into the next life to be something I want to live with for eternity, then I have to start now on the changes I need to make. If I'm like that young woman, now is the time to learn a little humility, to prune back my natural selfishness, to take an eager interest in the world around me, to look for real love, love of self and love of others. Then, thirty-odd years on, my face will be full of light, and its natural lines and sags will speak of peaceful happiness, the sort of face that smiles easily and naturally and wins smiles in return. If I want my soul to dwell in God's peace and glory in the life to come, then now's the time to look at my assumptions and check the negative ones; now's the time to do something about my stores of lumped-up anger and judgmentalism Now's the time to exercise those good muscles of patience, charity, justice, honesty, courage, so that they're better developed. Now's the time to exercise the same dedication and personal investment in my soul-making that a professional beauty spends on her skin and figure.

Now, if I could just bring myself to care more than I do about what I look like....

Copyright © 2000 Molly Wolf. Originally published Sat, 2 Dec 2000
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