Magic Shows and the Jamestown Bell Choir

I have mixed feelings about getting old. The altruistic side of me thinks that there is something beautiful about making it through life and being gracious and proud enough to show the battle scars. I love seeing people like this woman who I met harvesting rice in Thailand (please disregard the goofy look on my face, I'm not sure what that's all about). Her wrinkles are deep and tells stories of long, hot days harvesting rice, raising children and smiling through hard times (as Thai's are always doing). She's made it and even though she probably just wants to sit and not be bothered, she's keeping on. No Botox for her. It would be a disservice to her experience to inject what would look like a life of ease just for a flawless forehead and fewer crows feet. I want to be like the old lady who shows life experience in the way she carries herself- graceful, strong, weathered maybe, but weathered with wisdom. I realize, however, that this vision of old age is a little off.

Grandpa's traditional wave goodbye at Jamestown
The other night I went with the parents to the Jamestown Assisted Living variety show. Grandpa Hart has been living there for the last 4 years or so and he plays in the Bell Choir. The variety show had other acts but this was definitely the headliner. They played America the Beautiful, and a whole bunch of songs I've never heard of like Hi-lili Hi-lo (well I actually know that one, but just because I've come to hang out with grandpa during bell choir rehearsals. For a creepy puppet rendition of the song click here). The show was nice enough (my grandpa is too cute) but it was a stark reminder of just how unglamorous old age really is. None of the bell choir members even cracked a smile, many of them probably couldn't. Most of the people that live at Jamestown were fairly accomplished in their lives. My grandpa was a rocket scientist. Well, an aerospace engineer. He worked on Top Secret planes for Boeing back in the iron curtain, 'we're afraid of the USSR' days. He served in SE Asia in WWII and saw the Emporer of Japan sign the treaty papers ending the war. He was an excellent singer (performed with the family, in choirs and alone). Now he and his generation are debased to bell-ing 9 of the 35 notes in the assisted living variety show. Half are in wheel chairs, they all smell, their wrinkles are sallow and covered in age spots. With all improvements in medicine and life expectancy, is this what they are living for? Worse even, my grandpa now remembers only snippets of the non-marginalized life he led. I know his mind is moving right now but whatever he's thinking about doesn't last very long. From my frequent visits, I can count about 20 odd stories and thoughts that grandpa cycles through. A handful from the military, post-military, his wife and his children. But he certainly has his priorities straight. Most quoted, "I've come to realize that the single most important result of the restoration of the gospel is the ability to seal families." I think he really misses his wife.

I see how hard it is for grandpa to come to grips with his diminishing capacities. I do not look forward to it. It's not pretty, but I do still believe it can be approached with grace. I complement grandpa and the bell choir for keeping active and staying as high-function as they possibly can. Here he is doing the same magic tricks he did for his grandkids, now for his great-grandkids. They're a little less magical as his shaky hands stumble over the magic set stunts. The old two-dollar bill roll out is now a one dollar bill wallet, but the kids' names are still on it!

But I just love my grandpa.

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