The Beautiful People

There's a Jerome Kern song that runs through my head every once in a while and, when no one is at home, I sing it around the house. The Way You Look Tonight brings back a time that, likely, never was. I think of myself in my young college years and a man I said I would marry. Lovely ... never, ever change. This song is about somebody I wanted to be, but I changed.

The writer Louis Begley wrote a charming OpEd piece in a recent New York Times called Old Love, in which he celebrates his love for his wife. He recalls a conversation from his youth in which he asks a friend, what if one is deeply in love with a young woman — which was my case — and with age her beauty fades. Will her attraction fatally diminish?

Which got me thinking about that song, and why I love it so. What is the beauty that a lover sees? And really, what happens when that particular beauty disappears? What beauty is the song talking about?

Then I look at the lyrics, and realize that there is very little physical description involved. There's a soft cheek, to be sure, but no other specifics than a warm smile, a laugh that wrinkles her nose, a feeling of tenderness. Breathless charm.

The beauty, the loveliness, describes one particular woman, not the way she actually looks, but the way she is. A warm smile, a wrinkly nosed laugh, a habit of tenderness. Breathless charm. These things can last. They are lovely.

Begley writes, "...the Lady in Question, which I believe I still see with the eyes of youth, has remained as beautiful and as capable of moving me as ever."

Way back in my young college years, I wanted to be lovely for that young man, and I think he thought I was, but more than that, I thought I wanted to be the old love for him as well, and I found I couldn't stick.

Seldom turns out the way it does in the song. That line is from Scarlet Begonias, a Hunter/Garcia song. Garcia, as in Jerry Garcia, short for Jerome Garcia. Named for Jerome Kern.

I'm an old lady now. I keep looking for my young self in the mirror, but she is gone. My friends tell me I haven't changed a bit, and I suspect they prevaricate just a little. But perhaps they are looking at something else. After all, they aren't looking in my mirror. They aren't looking at my memories. They aren't looking at the woman I think I should be. They're looking at me. With love.

So maybe some little loveliness was there all along. It just didn't manifest in the storybook way I assumed it would. It grew into who I really was and had been all along.