Discussions on religion often revolve around the profound differences which exist between people of various backgrounds of belief. How on earth, for example, can an atheist find common ground with a Muslim, or a pagan with a Baptist? Although the world's religions do differ drastically from one another, with equally varying and colorful conceptions of the spirit world, humanity is tied together by the common thread of aging and mortality. It is a fate which no-one escapes, whatever one believes. Photographer Tom Hussey has captured the common humanity of people from all walks of life in a series of photographs depicting the phenomenon of aging.
Aging: A Universal Theme
Hussey's series features a remarkably diverse range of individuals with their own, unique stories, engaging in the same practice: they are all shown reflecting on their past, coming to terms with the long-faded glory of their youth, and contemplating the future. Most subjects appear in their 80s, when most people in the Western world are approaching the end of their life, the burden of what awaits them weighing heavily on their minds. The images strike a delicate balance between nostalgia and contentment, producing a thoughtful, bittersweet kind of poignancy. Regardless of race, religion, or gender, all subjects share the same fate, and all are forced to ponder its greater significance.
To convey his message, Hussey made a point of getting to know his subjects more
intimately to reveal their personal musings on their own aging. In fact, it was his conversation with a war veteran that inspired his series. Just before his birthday, the elderly man told Hussey, "I can't believe I'm going to be 80. I feel like I just came back
from the war. I look in the mirror and I see this old guy". In one photograph, a woman gazes into a mirror at her reflection, which depicts her as a much younger nurse in days gone by. In another, a retired firefighter contemplates an image of himself as a much younger man, in full uniform. "When you look in the mirror
every day, you recognize yourself", says Hussey, "but when you go back and look at a photo of yourself years ago, you say, 'Wow, I really have changed'".
The Ultimate Insignificance of Difference
Perhaps one of the overriding themes of Hussey's series is the insignificance of petty differences, including those of a religious persuasion. His subjects do not hail from the same stock of folks with the same beliefs about life, death, and mortality, but rather they reflect a composite of races, genders, occupations, and, very likely, faith backgrounds. Each individual has a unique history which may have produced a very different character with its own set of beliefs, attitudes, and assumptions, but this matters little. The passage of time does not discriminate on the basis of religion. Whether you believe in Allah, Jesus Christ, Mother Nature, or no deity at all, you experience the same fundamental life changes as your neighbor.
This is not to say that differences are completely irrelevant, of course. Diversity is something to be celebrated, and we should be careful not to shoehorn everybody into the same box. However, it is not a matter of choosing one, or the
other. It is perfectly possible to revel in the rich variety of human experiences on one hand, while also recognizing the shared struggles which tie those experiences together on the other. The earth-worshipping pagan, the rational atheist, and the faith-driven Christian are all made up of the same elements, and these elements eventually take a different shape one might say decay or even wither until we return to the earth. But before we do, we each have the opportunity to acknowledge our common mortal destiny.
Hussey's photographic series speaks to every one of us regardless of our beliefs. He admonishes the viewer to "[t]ake time to appreciate every day, because these years will be gone before you know it. Don't regret growing older. It's a privilege denied to many". Instead of wasting life sparring over ideological differences, we should spend it relishing its preciousness. No message better encapsulates the Universal Life Church motto, "We are all children of the same universe".