Every now and then, the way I look surprises me. I’ll glance at my hair and think, oh that’s right, I no longer color my hair. I did it for a long time and drove everyone around me crazy, talking about whether I should continue to do it or not. I can’t remember when I began to feel that being grey was something to be avoided. My hair was changing, age-appropriately. I wasn’t particularly concerned about it. But I colored it anyway. For years, I paid an absurd amount of money to have it done and when that annoyed me, I dyed it myself. I dreaded doing it. What a pain in the neck. I was so relieved when I stopped it. I felt more like what I think about myself as a person. Nonetheless, I’m still taken aback on occasion when I see my salt and pepper topping, wondering how quickly it seemed to happen.
Then there’s my skin. Genetics have to play a significant role in how wrinkly you become. I spent and still spend a lot of time outside in the sun, swimming, gardening and I spent years doing dog-walking. But my face remains pretty smooth. I’m oily there. The age shows in my arms which are developing that crepey appearance, fragile and dry. And my neck is becoming saggy and foldy. Hah! There’s an app for that.
THE NECK, CHIN & JAWLINE SCULPTING WAND.
TAKE UP TO 10 YEARS OFF THE APPEARANCE OF YOUR NECK, CHIN & JAWLINE!
Lots of apps, really, if you have the money and the inclination. In our youth-oriented culture, there’s no stone unturned in developing injections, surgeries, serums and creams that can turn back your clock and have you looking decades younger than you really are. And in a culture that places so much emphasis on looks, it’s not a surprise that the multi-billion dollar anti-aging industry is booming away with boomers like me. There are supplements you can buy which promise to keep your brain elastic and younger than it actually is, in addition to new medical research which ostensibly slows the aging process. If you starve yourself, you can hold off the clock. I know I’m just skimming over what’s on the market or what may soon be out there. The thing is, I don’t care about any of it. I’m not saying that I deliberately want to look old or pitiful or any other negative, unacceptable ways. I’ve just learned to let go of the worries about it. I don’t care about how people think I look. More importantly, I don’t care if I’m getting older. It’s the natural order. My husband would have given anything to live and age beside me. Cancer squashed that desire. But I’m here and I feel incredibly relieved to be free of the societal burden that hangs over our self esteem. Things are tough enough without worrying about appearances. How about thinking about what’s inside instead of what’s outside?
I’ve been aging since I was born. Just like everyone else. When you’re little, there’s no thought given to the process. What happens just is. After awhile, as you develop consciousness, you become aware that as you grow there are milestones to reach.
I remember when my son learned to tie his shoes. He stood up and said, there. Now I can tie, zip, button and snap. I’m all done. Such a wonderfully simple view of growing up.
But complications emerge. So much to learn, so much out of reach. You can learn to ride a bike, to swim, make a sandwich. Get a driver’s license. Register to vote. As the independence desires grow and you tick these goals off your list, restlessness and impatience become issues. In our house we talked a lot about learning the rewards of delayed gratification. And we talked about not rushing, because childhood goes fast and is actually the shortest part of your life. Truly the only time when if you’re fortunate, you can be carefree. Because independence and freedom also carry responsibilities which can begin to weigh you down, not long after you arrive in adult life. Once you recognize the gifts of being older, you spend all your time striving to acquire those gifts. You want to get to the place where you can have a car, buy a drink legitimately, have sex, make your own decisions, free from your family’s rules and imposed structures. You can travel wherever you want if you have the time and money. You can be your own person.
These are the glory years, that is if you’re lucky enough to have good health and the means to enjoy them at your disposal. But those years don’t seem to last long. No sooner do you arrive in that long-awaited spot when you are suddenly nostalgic for your carefree youth. What a surprising conundrum. Suddenly you find yourself feeling like time is going too quickly and you want to slam on your brakes and make it slow down. You start to feel like you’re getting old. You’re not as energetic or fast as you were when you were in your teens or twenties. You don’t bounce back as quickly when you stretch yourself beyond your limits. Worries become part of your daily life. Bodies begin to change. Although men have more muscle mass than women, both sexes reach their physical peak as young adults or anywhere from their late 20’s to early 30’s.
So on top of all that, we add the insecurities of having the wrong exterior. We’re not beautiful enough. Not thin enough. Not sexy enough. Too little hair. Too freaking old. Shoved to the margins of life as youth surges past you. Now how in the hell did that happen? I remember times when I wanted to hide from the world. Bad complexion. Bad haircuts. Too much fat. No shorts allowed. Wrong nose. No outdoor work when someone might see you at the wrong angle. Ugh. What a waste of energy and time.
I think aging is a gift. The kind of gift that’s sort of like a whoopee cushion – a surprise, a sly nasty poke, but a gift nonetheless. For someone like me who experienced many deaths that happened too early in life, I’ve been trying to find the way to appreciate the fact that I’m still here, while struggling with the newfound deficits of getting older.
Knowing that we live in a youth-oriented culture isn’t rocket science. There is no amount of time in which I could imagine listing all the products, the potions, the miracles out there which are all aimed at the notion that aging can be avoided, averted, delayed or perhaps stopped altogether. With 3D printing available, medical advances, cryogenics, and some hard work, you can actually believe that you can maintain your youth longer than has ever been possible. The quest for the fountain of youth goes back a long way and is considered a worthy goal. Maybe it is. In my lifetime, not so much.
Fountain of Youth – Ancient Greece
The fact is that aging is living. You’re birthed and then immediately set to the task of growing older. If you’re lucky, that process is one of nurture. You’re fed, clothed, hugged, protected. People guide you and teach you new things constantly which will help you in your aging process. Evolving is a good thing. Except there seems to be a point when you go too far. For us lucky ones, who are born healthy, grow healthy, develop healthy, there seems to be a place where subtly, that ever-changing process becomes more of a negative than a positive. For women, that seems particularly true. At some point, women age out of what is considered the most desirable pit stop on life’s journey. And from our earliest years, the message about becoming less than prime is very clear. What’s thrown in our faces are ways to cover up the aging process, before you’re relegated to the trash heap.
You become invisible in the culture unless you manage to foil the tricks played on you by the gift of growing older. I suppose there’s biology at work here. The most basic tenets of why we’re here is to reproduce. Once menopause shows up and estrogen takes a walk, the battle for youth becomes a steep climb up a seemingly endless rugged mountain of changes that remind you that your best days are behind you. That is, if you let the cultural norms dictate what you do with this new phase of life.
Remember all that grows finer with age? Wine, cheese, whiskey? Trees, tortoises, bird songs? Love, devotion, sexual skills? Those count, don’t they? Well, so do our minds, our vocabularies, our insights. I’m still growing my intellectual firepower. I’m growing my feelings and trying to share them in a way that will impact the world. I don’t want to be on the junk heap and I don’t intend to be pushed there. One day I may fall victim to the ravages of senility or Alzheimer’s. But not now. As long as I’m still breathing I want to be a multi-dimensional person. I want to learn something new every day. I want to appreciate what is beautiful. I want to speak out about politics and immorality. I want to hang out with young people. I want to push for change. And I want to lend a hand or a shoulder or an ear to someone who needs a break. So who cares about my hair color or my wrinkles or my aging past reproduction? The most valuable parts of me are right here, right now. Decades have gone into growing them. A lot of effort, a lot of coping and a lot of strength I didn’t know was in me.
I feel relieved. So much time wasted on what means so little. I’ve sat at three deathbeds, of the people who meant everything to me. My parents, who brought me into this world, and my beloved husband who walked through forty five years with me. None of them gave any thought to the superficial aspects of this world as their lives ebbed away. I don’t intend to waste one second of the time left to me. If anyone who reads this can let go of at least a bit of self-judgment over issues that don’t matter, this will have been worth my writing it.