She’s tangled her lips into a burrowed frown again, staring at the morning’s news, clearly unimpressed. Nearing ninety, the elderly lady still has her opinions, strong and bold as ever.
“Always has to be newer and better,” she grunts before stalking off with the newspaper crumpled in a roll underneath her worn and wrinkled hands.
She is petite and aged, worn around the edges as some would say, garnered with a consistently furrowed brow and rough, weathered smirk. Lined and hard–hard to know and hard to be known.
I hear them criticize — the new ways, mostly and the new people. The “kids” who are really adults and should be acting like “adults” even though they are “kids”. I sip my coffee, trying to choke back laughs and text inconspicuously, a book hidden in my purse for later.
But sure enough, they catch my phone with their watchful eyes and criticize me now, citing the evils of technology and of course, the utter ridiculousness of updating your friends on what you are doing at every single minute of the day.
They laugh at their jokes and complain some more — about the hard chairs they’re sitting on, the hard days of work, the hard block of frozen spaghetti for lunch, currently de-frosting on the table. Sipping more coffee, they continue to talk in their hard, foreign ways, as I slip out the door.
I notice him smile as I say good morning. It’s just a slight smile yet it brims to the corners of his mouth. I never remember noticing it before — I always figured he was just a grumpy, no nonsense type of older gentleman.
But I notice the smile, soft at first, again and again and again, growing warmer just like the sun on these hot summer days. Soon he’s returning my good mornings and hellos. I wonder if I was wrong about him back then when I proclaimed him ‘no-nonsense and grumpy.’
His features are still weathered and hard and I bet he could tell me a lot of stories of a long life of labour and toil. But he smiles at me through the lines of an aging face and I see the life that’s in him still, that’s in us all until we die.
They probably married young–those ladies sipping coffee on hard chairs. Eighteen, nineteen, twenty, or maybe twenty-one. My age, they were all blooming young brides, basking in the light of their bride grooms’ gentle smiles. All white, beautiful, beloved. Love softens us, they say.
But before that date, they were even softer, waiting for love. They must have grown from soft, pink baby to bright eyed little girl, pig tails flying, to a fresh and beautiful young woman, long hair clipped up. They must have picked flowers, memorized words for spelling bees, baked birthday cakes for younger siblings. Went to church in their best dresses, and blushed when the handsomest boy winked in their direction.
And then when the handsome boy met her at the alter, she likely smiled more than ever. The babies came soon after–soft, pink, and fresh, with the life we’re all created with, the life we hold till we die. The life that was meant for eternity.
I realize that this is not all there is and was. The complaining and criticism of youth, and hardened smiles. At one time, they were as youthful as I — probably smirking at their own parents’ and grandparents’ harsh commands and comments.
We are all born soft and pink, fresh and young. And so I wonder, what makes us become hard?
Months pass into a year. I’ve matured a bit — hardened even, myself. But I have more patience, endurance, and even, love. Does that come with being hardened?
I become privy to different, harder conversations. About walking an hour to town, houses falling at the bombs of the enemy, little legs flying to bomb shelters, and loved ones dropping dead. I suddenly see so much within the lines of their hardened faces, and wonder how I once missed what is now so evident.
Hardship. Pain. Utter devastation.
That is how we harden.
Experience. Endless toil. Death and desperation.
That is how we harden.
Long suffering. Tears left unwiped. No conclusions for our grief.
That is how we harden.
Yet within the lines, I now see a surprising beauty and a long hidden joy. It’s mixed with a new found courage and bravery and I develop respect and admiration, the more I notice. I see the softness within, still there after all these years — they’re still the babies, the flower picking girls, and the June brides, little boys longing for adventure, and winking young rowdies as well as the hardened women and men, living a midst the pain and continual tread of life.
The softness lies within. You will find it if you look hard enough.
The hardness has become a shell to protect, in many cases. A relief, a disguise. But behind the hardness, there is a garnered wisdom. A learnt renewal, and a cloudy resurrection to come.
How do we become hard? The tread of years, the changes, the griefs, and unanswered prayers.
But do we ever really become hard? We are all children in God’s sight, and His softness and mercy can be enough for us.