Posted by: lavieimaginee | June 26, 2014

some scattered thoughts on aging.

One morning last week, when my mom was in town, we sank into the wide sofa chairs of my sunroom (more of a nook, really, with walls of exposed brick and copious bright windows) with cups of tea. It was a lovely morning: cool, misty, with a soft ambient light. We were chatting about little of significance, enjoying each other’s company and sleepily formulating plans for the day. At one point in the conversation, I must have turned my head just so – because Mom gasped lightly and declared, “You have a gray hair!”

I looked at her in disbelief. “I do?”

“Yup. You do. Right” – and she reached just above my right temple – “here. Do you want me to pull it out?”

I thought for moment. “No.” I said eventually. “I want to see it.”

I padded down the hall to the bathroom and studied my right temple in the mirror. Sure enough, there it was. Long, silvery, glistening. Beautiful, I thought. And then I had a moment of mortal terror.

Gray hairs are a strange sort of forecasting, a collection of small metaphors. They are chances to watch pieces of yourself age long before the rest of the body starts to catch up. They are mortality reminders. But they are also trophies; they are also testaments. I looked at that little gray hair, pulled back the layers of pride and fear, and saw the Gift of Days. This was a championship ribbon that screamed CONGRATULATIONS, YOU MADE IT ANOTHER YEAR – a silver-serpent witness to chapters closed and news ones begun and to a whole wealth of undeserved and blissfully under-appreciated years. I tucked it back behind my ear with its younger, still-pigmented brothers and sisters, and left the bathroom.

Somewhere along the line, we stop celebrating.

A friend of mine recently posted a picture on Facebook of the nursery she has thoughtfully and tenderly decorated for her unborn baby. It included a ruffled crib, a mobile of tiny wild animals (cartooned for gentleness), and blankets in soft colors. And, most significantly, it included a nearly floor-to-ceiling wall-hanging with lots of horizontal lines on one side, and a long-necked, smiling giraffe on the other. It was for measuring. It was for anticipating, marking, and celebrating baby’s first foot, foot and a half, and every inch that followed.

There is a long stretch of time, in our early years, when we are rewarded for simply being in the world. We anticipate getting taller and weighing in a little heavier, growing breasts and pubic hair, getting our periods. We wait anxiously for these milestones; we mark them, like accomplishments, when they happen as they should. We almost instinctively celebrate the things that tell us how long we have been here – the things that usher us over new physical thresholds.

But then, somehow, one unexceptional day, this narrative reverses on itself. And we wake up – mystified – to a world that is vicious in its condemnation of age. We realize the reward has changed to one we can only earn by appearing to have spent less time on this planet.

So, we stop wearing the pride of our years and try to become so much less than we are. We lose pounds, we lose wrinkles, we eradicate graying hairs. We gravitate toward things that seem to indicate naivete and under-use, like anal bleaching or ridding ourselves of body hair, in order to look new and untested and small. We suddenly struggle to own the badges and battle-scars we’ve earned. We feel apologetic about these bigger, droopier, messier versions of our childhood selves, as if we should be ashamed of all the life we’ve lived and given, the heartbreaks endured, the journeys made, the triumphs and moments of transcendence that have been part and parcel of our ever-expanding stories.

Maybe our eyes dim with age so that they become more forgiving. Maybe the gradual loss of physical sight is actually just the recovery of eyes that see more deeply: the final unlearning of all the lies we’ve been fed about worth, and beauty. Maybe there’s a part of coming untethered from this world that allows us – at last, before the end – to really own our place in the universe, and to revel in the fullness of whatever back-bent and hip-heavy space we have grown to inhabit.

I hope I have the courage to carry the song of my years with grace. I hope I grow old enough to lose teeth, to look down at my hands and see skin spotted from years of sunshine. And I hope that, if I am that lucky, I radiate out from between my wrinkles; I hope I learn to wear my sagging skin around a soul that bursts with gratitude. I’ve known so many more deserving people who will never have that chance.


Responses

  1. A big topic for me these days! I love reading your thoughts about getting older.

  2. Thank you for this reminder. Thank you!

  3. Well, thank you BOTH for continuing to be examples of intentional radiance as each year passes. I feel lucky to know such deeply beautiful women.

  4. My grey hair shall remain hidden for a while longer than yours because I’m blondish. I mostly notice my eye-wrinkles. But they’re not bad. I hope I will age gracefully. As in, age with a good attitude, not age slowly. I’m bracing myself for it, which might be a problem. Probably I should stop caring how I look. I think there’s a tad more anxiety for those of us who haven’t found a life partner and are halfway interested in doing so.


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