I Am Still Here

My 90-year-old neighbor supervised me while I dug up the lawn along our fence to plant a shared garden during lockdown. He shook his head and said, “My wife was strong. But you’re about the strongest woman I ever did see.”

Anne Giles

At museums, I have recognized only one other female figure shaped as I am, a Roman statue of a wounded Amazon at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York. I have been strength-training since I was 13. That’s 50 years.

These days, who I am seems only to exist in a Zoom screen. Who I was has been pulled like so many weeds from my father‘s memory by dementia. I have been attempting to learn Mandarin Chinese. If I speak aloud and no one answers, am I still here? Am I still me?

When I saw Debbie Smith had captured the true and beautiful selves of my friends in their “40 Over 40” photos, I asked if she would see me, too.

“I am still here.” That’s what these photos say to me. In spite of living in isolation during a pandemic, in spite of my identity as my father’s daughter eroding hand-in-hand with his own identity, in spite of the diminishments of aging, I am still myself.

Like a colored plate in an illustrated specimen book of plants and flowers, I am just one among the 100 billion humans estimated to have ever lived.

On my page in that history – the first and worst tragedy in my life – my hips were never widened, my breasts and belly never softened by childbearing. These photos document what a face and a body with this bittersweet story look like.

What I feel for myself as I look at these photos – and for all 100 billion of us – is deep compassion and appreciation. How exquisite and tragic this being human is! How brave we all are!

Anne Giles

Photos by Debbie Smith

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