There is a saying in the design world: form follows function. It came about during the Modernist era, a response to the ornamentation of Art Nouveau. But it has come to symbolize the elegant beauty of functionality.
As I grow older, I see this ideal reflected nowhere more clearly than in my physical self. I used to be the skinny girl, slim but callow. “Thin” was more than just a descriptor – it was my identity. I was that girl. Thin. Short. Quiet. Smart. (At least we think she’s smart, because she’s quiet.) As I grew older, I wanted more from life than to fit into a slender mold. I learned things. I did things. I went to college. I got a job. I had a baby. I bought a house. I lost a job. I started a business. I found myself. I fell in love.
Now I have thick muscles and dull scars and sore joints and warm memories. And the elegant functionality of a life having been lived. I can lift a truck plow from the ground with a 2×4 and a brick. I can run a planer that makes the desk that I sit at to write. I can cut metal into agile shapes that belie their material. And when the satisfaction of creation wasn’t enough, I challenged myself to create the space itself, to build the studio where everything else is born. The functionality of this physical body may not be a source of resume material, but it is certainly one of visceral pride.
Form follows function.
My daughter is the skinny girl now. Tall. Thin. Charming. Charismatic. Four little words describing one brief existence. A being on the precipice of all that is rich and meaningful in life. A soul not yet formed, waiting for its ascension. She doesn’t ache for the life she is missing, not yet. She hasn’t tasted its sweetness, nor its bitterness, nor its complex umami. She has not traded in her delicacy for strength. Her identity is limited to what she can fit into a slender mold.
She once discovered an old photograph of me in my thinner days. She looked at it carefully. I suppose it made her wonder about my past, and perhaps about her own future. Would she lose her identity over time? Had I lost mine? She sent me an exercise video she liked and pushed me to try it – it would make my husband happy, she jokingly remarked. It stung – not that perhaps she thought I wasn’t thin enough, but that she believed my husband might value me less for my form. For the elegant functionality that life had burnished into me, like a river softly sculpting a mountainside over time.
But he does value this physical form, this manifestation of function. I wish she could see that. I wish she could know it as a deep truth, as something unworthy of compromise. If she could, she would choose a partner in life who would always do the same. Someone who would see the beauty, the worth, held strong in a life having been fully lived.
Form follows function.
Throughout my years of building things, I’ve learned that the shape of a tool determines its usefulness: the way it fits in your hand and feels against your skin, how it balances its weight delicately against the fulcrum of your body. And over time, its edges soften and warm as it becomes seasoned with wear, earning its patina and ripening into a simple elegance that transcends mere utility.
I want to age elegantly. Not flawlessly, as if to deny the passage of time. Nor gracefully, as if I’ve never felt a day’s worth of work in my bones and my body. Nor courageously, as if time itself was something to fear. But with the simple elegance born of utility well seasoned by time. Of form soothed by function.
Time is the gift given to humanity. Bearing its patina is an act of gratitude. Truly, it is the only way we have to give thanks. To hide it or fight or deny it in shame is to rebuff the Giver. But to embrace its softness, its warmth, the smoothness of its wear, is to say nothing less than Thank you for this life I have lived in fullness.