The Laboratory of Aging

September 30, 2011

“Character is refined in the laboratory of aging.”
— James Hillman, The Force of Character

My Dad's hands at rest

I recently took a photograph of one of my colleagues at work, and I thought it wonderfully expressive.  It showed her reading from a Nook.  She laughed about how old her hands looked — my camera captured every wrinkle and age spot.  She said the next time I photographed her, she would be sure to apply hand cream first.

Another friend and colleague mentioned that she loves seeing her hands age.  Every time she looks at them, she sees them growing into her beloved grandmother’s hands.

I love photographing hands because they seem to capture something of the soul of a person.  Young or old, gestures reveal much about a person’s character.

One of the best books I’ve read about aging is James Hillman’s The Force of Character.  He sees “symptoms” of aging as particularly rich ways of forming character.  He says, “When the body begins to sag, it is abandoning sham and hypocrisy.  The body leads the way down, deepening your character.”

Hillman has much to say about old people and old things.  “Old is one of the deepest sources of pleasure humans know. . . .  We need the old pleasure-giving things, which reciprocate our love with their handiness and undemanding compatibility. . . . Even when chipped, blunted, and threadbare from overuse, old things have acquired character from familiarity, from utility, and sometimes from the beauty of luster, patina, or design.  Or simply from being old, the being of oldness.”

Hillman’s is a beautiful way to look at aging.  And I think he’s right.




4 Responses to “The Laboratory of Aging”

  1. garden2day Says:

    It is funny how we see our hands and those of others. Someone may see old and wrinkly and another may see young and vibrant (perspective variance). Of course, I like it when hands are referred to as mature rather than old and wrinkly. We should appreciate the older and more experienced-not desiring to throw it away just because it is not new and shiny. Thanks, Rosemary. I think our hands say quite a bit about our lives and character.

  2. […] aging” is James Hillman’s The Force of Character.  I first mentioned this book in this blog post.  Hillman […]

  3. […] of aging” is James Hillman’s The Force of Character.  I first mentioned this book in this blog post.  Hillman […]

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