When the "Smithsonian World" television series gets it right, something special happens. You are lifted up out of your skin for a moment and you see yourself and some of the cultural forces that shape your life.
"A Certain Age" gets it right at 8 tonight on MPT (Channels 22 and 67). The "Smithsonian World" episode on aging features older Americans talking about what it means to mature -- emotionally, spiritually, financially and intellectually. There is wisdom, kindness, melancholy and joy in their answers.
The hour is structured casually. But it's a good casual -- the kind of absorbed, loose journey you might make on foot through one of the great buildings of the Smithsonian Institution itself.
The viewer is treated to excerpts of an interview with choreographer Agnes de Mille conducted by Marc Pachter, a historian at the Smithsonian. The interview was taped before an audience. When de Mille isn't doing comedic asides to the audience, she's saying things like, "Part of being young is being vulnerable and caring to the point of extinguishing yourself and everybody else. But when you're older, you can wait and take the inspiration as it comes and be patient with it, and give your all to it without any other troubles or worries."
There are equally enlightening interviews with a nurse, a dairy farmer and a rancher. They are presented against a background of music, old photographs and recent videotape that suggests the textures of the speakers' lives and times.
"A Certain Age" is a celebration of aging. But it's not sentimental or saccharine. The viewer's joy is in seeing how his or her individual life is part of a large and great story.