How Aging Reveals Character — A Conversation With James Hillman
To show one’s face is part of having the courage to show who one is. And coming to terms with your own face takes a lifetime. Just think how, when you were twelve or sixteen, you wished you looked different. And that’s true for everyone; even the most perfect, beautiful boy or girl is dissatisfied. So why is that? It can’t just be that I don’t look like the model on the magazine cover. It’s something else. You haven’t yet accepted your fate, who you are. As you get older, that relationship between your face and who you are matures. They blend together. Your true self shows more.
Baby Face/Death Mask. Right away, at birth, the infant no sooner delivered, breathing, and bathed, its face is studied for clues to character. It looks so fierce, so wisely old, so placid, so much like “your” side of the family. . . . And, at the end, quiescent and struggle-free on the deathbed, they used to come with the plaster to make a death mask. The custom, begun almost five thousand years ago in Egypt, would capture the essence of character in the features of the face.
Unlike some of my more mechanically minded eighth-grade classmates, I didn’t know a thing about how cars worked. I’d never even changed a tire. I just liked how cars looked. While other kids drew hot rods in their notebooks, I made “design studies,” trying to predict what changes the Big Three automakers would implement in their new models. How could the designers possibly improve upon dual headlamps? My answer was to integrate them into the grille beneath a pair of “eyebrows ” that sloped toward the center (a design that was, in fact, used in the 1959 Dodge).
My first impulse was to correct her English: it might be better to say, “I have fallen in love with Lawrence.” We had been over the difference between the past perfect and the past imperfect tens of times, and she still didn’t get it. In the past perfect, the action was over and done with. But imperfect action had a continuing and vital connection to the present, which I knew was the case here: she had fallen in love with him and continued to be in love with him, at that very moment.
It wasn’t until my son Josh and his new wife, Laura, appeared back at our house after the honeymoon that I realized they were actually married and that I was blessed — that we all were. And it wasn’t until Laura, a few days later, licked the end of her finger and used it to wipe a smudge of makeup from the corner of my eye, putting her face just a few inches from mine and dabbing at me with her spit, that I realized I had another daughter.
He had a special way of doing everything. He developed a method of eating watermelon with a knife, cutting slices so thin the seeds would slither out, and setting aside the juiciest fillet from the middle to eat last. There was an order in which to read the newspaper (sports, business, style, metro, front page). The two of you never left a football or a baseball game until the last second had ticked off the clock, regardless of a lopsided score or a ten-below windchill or being late to meet someone for dinner. He always carried a pen in his pocket and kept long lists of things to do and places to see on little yellow sticky notes inside his wallet.