Yesterday I looked at my left hand and observed that I was wearing several brightly colored Friendship bracelets and holding my first letter from The AARP. I’m going to turn fifty soon. Maybe it’s time to grow up. Maybe it’s time to cut loose and enjoy the hell out of my remaining years. Maybe I need to embrace the whole thing, go grey, act all wise and crone-ish. Maybe I need to fight like hell with every re-pigmenting, cellular-regenerating, Centrum Silver-ish tool at my disposal.
I did not love turning thirty, mostly because I was still single, but thirty is still so very young that it was easy to tell myself that things had time to turn around (and they did). I don’t really remember turning forty, because I was busy, and I didn’t feel any different on my birthday than I had ten years earlier, five years earlier, or five days earlier. It was just another day, embellished with dinner out and cards in the mail.
Fifty is eating my brain like a starving zombie. There is, in the middle of my consciousness, a wall of fifty stacked things – planks, coins, Cuisenaire rods, empty Crème de la Mer jars, whatever. (Please note, before we move on, that fifty of anything is a lot). On one side of the pile are billboards: “age is just a number,” “you’re as young as you feel,” and “beats the hell out of the alternative.” Across the divide are my greying, thinning hair, my mutinous eyesight, and the feeling I get in my left knee after working eight hours on my feet. My body is aging, and will continue to do so no matter what. We live in a society in which aging, particularly for a woman, is treated like a preventable disease.
I could shrug my (slightly arthritic) shoulders and move on, but this is a real issue for me. There is a societal expectation abroad in the land that a fifty-year-old woman is substantively different from a twenty or thirty year old woman, and the difference does not inure to the favor of the fifty-year-old. When I was the twenty-year-old, a woman past the half-century mark was losing all her “juice” and becoming a creature of tight steely curls, elastic-waist jeans and orthopedic shoes. Now a woman can fight back like crazy with Botox, skillful highlights, Pilates, antioxidants, and laser resurfacing. She can be ageless, kind of, or at least send the message that despite her approaching dotage she is trying for God’s sakes. (My husband says, and I quote, that I am “mixing up ‘people’ with Hollywood assholes who have a lot of money”).
And when does it stop? At what point does one say to oneself “okay, I’m eighty…no one who’s eighty has glossy dark hair, pouty lips and tight, radiant skin? It’s time to stop all of this nonsense and allow myself to be what nature intended?” If you fight age, which is, after all, inevitable, what is the cost, both financial and spiritual, of living life on the basis that what you actually are is totally unacceptable, and that you are going to devote enormous resources to pretending to be something else? Where is the admiration for the wise woman, the sage, the creature who has birthed children, fought battles, grown spiritually and come to know stuff that she didn’t know at twenty? Why can’t such a person grow increasingly comfortable with the realities of an aging body, enjoy her expanded consciousness and simply shine like a beacon of white-haired, age-spotted light?
Not to put words in your mouth, but you are thinking something along the lines of “just do it! Quit over-analyzing, stop comparing yourself to idiots, don’t read fashion magazines, drink lots of water, do yoga, read books, take walks, take vitamins, eat dark leafy greens, try new things, and ignore the expectations and standards set by a society obsessed with youth and appearance at the expense of everything else.” (Well, maybe that’s just what I’m thinking). I’m thinking “wear the friendship bracelets, check out new music, take up new hobbies, stretch your mind and your spine, and don’t let yourself be defined by your aches and pains, your age spots, or your need for an afternoon nap. Color your hair if it feels right, and stop coloring your hair when it feels wrong, when you look in the mirror and know that your face would look lovely and natural surrounded by a nimbus of fine, white waves.”
I’m thinking “live the life your brain tells you to live, and don’t make any decisions based on what a person your age should do. On the other hand, don’t ignore the self-knowledge that militates against staying up late in a smoke-filled room or taking up rock climbing. Or, more accurately, do those things only if you prepare yourself and accept that you are not Jack Lalanne or Chrissie Hynde. There will be some consequences. The consequences may totally be worth enduring for the experience.”
I don’t want to join AARP, and I don’t want to stop coloring my hair quite yet. What I want to do is to be kind to myself, and face the facts both positive and negative instead of focusing only on the latter. Unlike many people, I can’t look back longingly at my youth; I may have been young at twenty, and thirty, but I was also miserable, self-destructive, jealous, tightly wrapped and fearful. I may be “old” at fifty, but I am also comfortable, interested, alive, and open to the universe. Why would I want, for one second, to go back to my youth – even if it meant thick, shiny hair and no arthritis in my thumb?
I’m thinking “trust yourself. In all the ways that matter you get better every year.” I’m throwing out the fashion magazines. I’m making more friendship bracelets. I’m letting myself go…and I mean that in the best possible way.