By Matt Gordon
I’m not against the #tenyearchallenge. But I can’t particularly say I’m for it either. Especially after looking at some old photos of myself juxtaposed with some newer editions. Truly, the new is old. I compare the flowing locks to a hairline retreat reminiscent of the British at Dunkirk. I’ve never been muscular. But, until now, I’ve also never been flabby. Without kids, I had a vibrancy. With them, I have bags under my eyes, and most current pictures have one of these urchins dangling from my creaking, tired body.
It is true that I don’t like what I see, but beyond that, I don’t really enjoy the looking all that much. It makes me think of Narcissus. Look at yourself long enough and you can see little else. Pretty soon I will like what I see, like it or not. Or, at least, I will have a hard time looking away one way or the other.
Somehow, I can trick myself to believing that the world has been anxiously awaiting a picture of me from 2012 and then, through tricks of angle and light, a slightly better-looking version of me from 2022. Amid the world-ending climate change panic and a global pandemic and the general hell that is everyday life, I could see why a couple pictures of me, a basically unknown middling resident of mid-Missouri, would bring hope and joy and peace and perspective—and maybe, if I strike the right pose, some good old- fashioned lust—to the world. Be the change you want to see in the world, and all that.
But this just isn’t the truth. No matter how long I work at getting just the right photos so I can feel validated and dignified and loved by faceless strangers online, no amount of fanfare or reaction or shock is going to appease the longing I have to feel validated and dignified and loved. The need for those things is real—ten years ago just as they are now—but they just don’t come into focus through this challenge (which, if you think about it, isn’t much of a challenge at all).
Now, I’m not saying folks shouldn’t do this. Or maybe I am? I don’t know. Whatever I’m saying, a thought came to me whilst showing today regarding the ten-year picture thing. And it was this: what if I could post a picture of the world? Then and now. Are we better? Are we kinder? Have we gone flabby over the decade, mentally and socially? Do we like what we see? What we’ve become?
I don’t have answers here. I’m a nobody from nowhere, contently so. Further, measuring the world is a pretty subjective task. But I can measure my own world—the fullness of my life. Physically, I am dying—among the thousand muddled words the pictures may say, they shout those three (“I am dying”) quite clearly. I’m balder and slower and more wrinkled.
But what else? Am I kinder? Am I being transformed toward honesty? Do I serve better than I did? Am I more open with what I’ve been given and more closed toward complaining about my lot? I wish the real substance of who I am—and who I’m not—could be depicted. Perhaps it could help me answer whether or not, as I grow toward death, I’m also growing in life?
These thoughts occurred in the shower, and the shower ended. Would the thoughts too? Would I go back to lying in bed and staring at a little screen trying to decide whether the picture of me on the jet ski or me with long hair is more flattering? I hope not. Because if a decade shows anything, it shows change. We are born into a story, and we live our micro-narrative out in narrative form—always moving toward the end.
A friend of mine said the other day, speaking of Literature, “endings are hard.” I wonder how much of that is so because of muddled middles—and not of the midsection variety. If you think about it, when the character development goes awry, a tidy ending becomes far more challenging.
And speaking of challenging, so it goes for us. A ten-year challenge. A true one. The challenge to be better by being wiser, choosing well how we love and learn and give. It won’t always look pretty, and certainly won’t feel good, but it is the picture of life in its purest form: limping along toward a love made better by the increasing difficulty of every single step. And yet, we plod on, a pose which is striking in an altogether different way.
So post your pictures, I’m leaning toward this one:
But also consider your decade—not just the looking, but the living of it.