When I become a nice old lady

There is a Chinese saying that goes: after age 30, your appearance is the look of your soul.

How accurate that is could still be debated, however, what it reveals is unarguable: people are constantly shaping their aura, which will come out of them naturally before others even get to know them more. The older a person is, the more obvious the accumulation effect of his or her choices, which not only shape the life, but also present honestly the result of it, imprinting it to the whole of a person.

The cause-effect relation is a basic law of the universe, and as part of the universe, we humans are subject to this law too, as I could clearly see on the elder people I visited during the past week.

Every summer Gettysburg College has a program where every week a free basket of fresh vegetables and fruits is delivered to the house of low-income elder people. We try to match what we have available with what these elders prefer to eat. My job, then, was to go to the elder people who are already under the senior center Meals on Wheels program, and ask about what they would like to have in their basket.

Well, simple and quick was what I thought it would be. What I didn’t realize was the thinking that these visits have set off in my mind, complicated and long.

These elder people are different in so many ways.

Some were really happy and just brightened the room with their big smiles full of energy, and some were sad and mourned. Some were humble, while others were cold. Their faces kept flashing in my mind these days. Their bodies, coming in different shape, colors; their eyes, shining as if there is always hope, dark like stars fallings from a night sky, peaceful or mysterious as a quiet and misty pond. All the emotions I could read, feel, out of these people. All the energies, positive or negative, have been presented in front of me, within a few minutes of time.

These energies also come off from other aspects like action and language. An old lady whose house is full of the bad odor of smoke makes choices on very healthy food. Another old lady decided to have everything on the list and said “May God bless you “ after knowing I am from China and college is my first time in the U.S. There is also an old lady who kept condemning the food she does not like instead of saying no, I don’t want that.

Oh, and houses. Clean, unclean. Organized, messy. Animals, no animals. Collection of a certain object, variety of objects. Decorated, simple.


In some people I feel a positive energy and in some of these people I don’t. Others, I may even feel the opposite. I know what I have perceived is what is on the surface, underneath which lie in so many stories of how they have come to how they are right now, at this stage of life. These factors should all be considered, as humans are to be understood. But understanding does not mean recognition. What is on the surface is still part of a story. What is the result to some degree says something about the process. Here I intend no conclusive judgment at all. I just want to state a very true and direct feeling of mine:  in some of these elder people, I feel the love, wisdom, and hope, while in others, I don’t.

There are far too many external barriers that are out of our own control. But that one important thing in life is in our control: our attitude to life, the willingness to find hope and beauty, the willingness to believe.

Our family came from a very poor rural area in central China, and as I have seen in my hometown, people could end up being so different even if they came from the same unfortunate background, and some people who at first enjoyed external advantages were not the happiest in the end. Maybe sometimes people forget that they themselves, are the biggest strength and fortune they have in life.

Time works on us so that we could find meanings and shape who we are.

May we all become who we want to be in the end.  

And for me, I just want to be a nice old lady. 


Bowen Yang