A Present Perfect Reality

When is the time to be happy?


I don’t know about you, but there are a great many unknowns about aging that frighten me. Questions like: What if I can’t control my body? What if I lose my mental faculties? What if I end up all alone? are so abysmal that they tend to be punched down, whack-a-mole style, just as soon as they pop up.


Paradoxically, the last time questions like these carried any relevance for me was when I was a child. For better or for worse, the old and the young share an inescapable focus on the present. The old because there is no telling how much time they have left, and the young because they have so little concept of time to begin with.


Because of the scary questions, modern society has controlled what it can by compartmentalizing the old and the young, like carrots and peas in a TV dinner. These compartments allow for interaction with their adult caregivers, but not each other. Though we are not any closer to answering the scary questions, the bond between old and young perspectives has been severed. The community that delights in the present has been dismantled, and caregiving adults are left scrambling to approximate it.

Present Perfect

About four summers ago, I sat on the front lawn of my sister Evan’s house watching our kids play. She had just been to an estate sale, but instead of regaling me with what she wanted to buy for her new home, she fixated on the former inhabitants’ lives. As she described family photographs she saw, she became overwhelmed with concerns for their present whereabouts. My sister is not really a crier, so this took me by surprise. What followed was a stream of consciousness; hard-forged, well-intentioned, and courageous, on the the state of the elderly in America. She had looked at all the scary questions, turned them over in her hands. She came to believe in a better way.


I now see how that exchange foreshadowed “Present Perfect,” her film about a preschool housed in a nursing home. In addition to my previous post back in Sept, I am honored to submit this perspective alongside ViralNova, NewslinQ and the countless other national news outlets that have resonated with the redemption in this idea; the 380k (and counting) viewers of the Present Perfect trailer since last week, and the 310 donors to the Present Perfect Kickstarter campaign (now a Kickstarter staff favorite).


And maybe one day, when I am of questionable mind, unsound body, and all alone; a little boy with a black eye will bound toward me with a book in hand. He will grab my gnarled fingers, and accept my wrinkled face. We will read and inhabit the present together, and then I will know I am still a person. And just maybe I will have some dim memory of–some residual pride in–the seed of change that is Present Perfect.

I am honored to support this film, and I hope you will too.   



Present Perfect

I am blessed with two sisters: one is two years older than I, and one is two years younger. With doses intuitively mindful of efficacy and vital signs, these two women provide me shelter from, and exposure to the realities of life in equal measure.

My younger sister, Aynsley, is a nurse at Swedish Hospital in Seattle. Her work days are filled gathering shreds of human dignity among physical wreckage, and weaving them together over gaping fears of obsolescence. Her accomplishments in the medical field of life improvement are given; the most humane nurse knows that glimpses of the abyss mutate more stealthily and predictably than any infectious disease ever could.

My older sister, Evan, is a documentarian in the midst of producing a film entitled Present Perfect. True to sisterly form, the film studies our society’s questionable approach to aging and death through a most enveloping lens. From the Present Perfect website:

Set in a preschool housed in a retirement home, Present Perfect is a story at once simple and intricate, about the poetry that lies in the day-to-day interactions between the very young and the very old- those at the beginning of life and those nearing the end- and ultimately, what those relationships can reveal to us all about the way we live now.

Still from "Present Perfect"

Still from “Present Perfect”

While traveling through Turkey over the summer, a tour guide pointed out the absence of homeless people. Despite archaic aspects of Turkish society (a woman’s lack of choice in her own marriage, a caravan heralding the circumcision of a seven year old boy) I was stunned by this apparent triumph of civilization.

[Homelessness is primarily urban and inherently difficult to quantify, however recent data suggests that the US has 10 times the number of homeless people per capita as Turkey. NYC has a population of roughly 8 million, with nearly 54k recently documented as homeless, while Istanbul has a population of 14 million with 10k homeless.]

Besides imploding my stereotype, Turkey’s minimal homelessness demonstrates the malleability of cultural landscapes. They seem static because we are standing on them, but in reality cultural landscapes are tectonically shifting positions made of well worn collective wisdom. I imagine a societal norm is born much like a regional cuisine, out of necessity mixed with ingenuity, bubbling up in all it’s messy ethnocentric and communal glory.

If Turkey can show us how to make hummus, can she also show us how to house our people? What would happen to our cultural landscape if everyone had a home?

And what would happen if we were more accepting of aging and death? In Evan’s words:

The inspiration for this film stemmed from a longstanding desire to explore the topic of aging in America. Stepping into most any nursing home, it’s hard to ignore the sense of isolation one feels on behalf of the residents living there, and even harder to reconcile that with the fact that old age will inevitably come for us all. Does it have to be this way


If my experience in Turkey has taught me anything, then I would have to say… no.

It doesn’t have to be this way.

Who knows where mindful, mature acceptance of aging will take us? I often wonder if our stubborn refusal to look death squarely in the eye, to absorb it for the intrinsic truth of life that it is, has something to do with our societal addiction to violence and gun culture on one side, and our inability to allow natural death (AND) on the other. A child who desperately needs sleep would sooner thrash about to distraction before laying himself down for a nap.

Present Perfect is a gift, a new and improved recipe, gently stirring us into redeemed humanity.

If you are feeling the groundswell of this shift in collective wisdom, would you consider joining me in supporting this film, either with a donation or by spreading the word?

That we may be free to dance across every stage, here’s to the meaning of life.