Lately I find myself reflecting on the Brown sisters. As HuffPo reported last year, documentary photographer Nicholas Nixon has created an image of these four women, side by side, every year since 1975. The fortieth annual photograph recently appeared in the New York Times; the sisters are now between 55 and 65 years old. (See the entire series here.)
Like everyone else, I was blown away by the strength and luminosity of the images themselves, and the inevitability of their progression. As the Times notes, "The cumulative effect is dizzying and powerful. When 36 prints were exhibited in a gallery in Granada, Spain, viewers openly wept."
The fact that time is fleeting, that beauty changes, that waistlines thicken and skin grows slack -- although there was relatively little of that among these gorgeous gals, any of whom could have posed for the Lands' End catalog at any point in the past 40 years -- is perhaps a cause for tears. But what impressed me was the way in which these sisters have learned to draw from each others' strength.
The early images are all angles, bones and attitude; the four young women are facing different directions, nearly bursting from the frame in their impatience to head out and take on the world. Over time, they grow calmer, stronger -- sadder in some ways and more content in others.
Most of all, they begin to support each other. It's not the fierce protectiveness of youth, which pushes the outside world away, but a quiet hand on the back of the neck or an arm around the waist. As the years go by, there are many more of these. The sisters visibly lean in to the comfort of each others' love, and as they do, their expressions become softer, more grateful, and infinitely more beautiful.
There's a saying making the rounds on Facebook (attributed to Buddha, but really, who knows): "In the end, only three things matter -- how much you loved, how gently you lived, and how gracefully you let go of things not meant for you." The Brown sisters seemed to have learned this lesson well. Now it's my turn.