Off on the horizon, just a year and a handful of months away, stands a milestone year for yours truly. Try though I may, I can never reconcile my age with the way I feel and how I look at the world. There is just no way in heaven that I’m going to be turning 50 soon. No way.
However, when I look at the mirror and see a new wrinkle or a new section of hair that’s decided to go gray, the mirror reminds me that I am indeed pushing the big 5-0. I may feel like I’m 23 years old, but these in-my-face reminders that I’m not 23 get me a little discouraged.
Truth really does hurt sometimes.
Anyone who knows me knows that I’m the least vain, most low maintenance person around. I have never had my nails done, never had a pedicure, don’t go out and buy a whole new wardrobe every season, and I don’t have a fancy hairstyle. Still, people consider me quite stylish. And many more people consider me to be cool, which always makes me chuckle. Cool. I strived for years to be cool when I was a teenager and young adult. I guess coolness happens when you quit trying and just become the person you are meant to be. Anyway, that’s what I think. I was never called “cool” until I tossed aside the “wanting to fit in” mentality for “who cares.”
I can remember a young coworker of mine who told me that I was the coolest person she’d ever known. At the time, she was about twenty years old, and I was pushing forty. Yeah, it was a boost to my ego, but I have never been one for attention or external validation. Her compliment just made me feel less old, and that is always a good feeling.
One thing I’m seeing as I age is that getting older is partly a joy and partly a bitch. The joy comes in finally feeling free of the expectations that society puts on the youth. You know them well. They are the expectations of career, beauty, and acceptance. When a person can walk away from what others think they should be, that person is finally free. It seems that most people begin to make this transition around age 40. What freedom it is to not care any longer about what other people think about you. Absolute freedom.
Also, another beautiful thing about aging is coming to terms with mortality. This sounds bizarre, but trust me. There is true beauty in this.
When you’re young, death is the furthest thing from your mind. You have an entire life ahead of you with tons of possibilities. As you approach and fully entrench yourself in mid-life you begin to see death on the horizon, lurking about in the shadows. It’s always been there, but you’re getting just a tad bit closer to it and it’s letting you know it’s still there. Waiting.
The clock is ticking.
Some people freak out when they are reminded of their mortality. Others embrace it, knowing that there is another certain freedom in finally accepting that you are going to die. It gives you the impetus to finally do those things you’ve always wanted to do but kept putting off till later.
For me, this has been writing. As long as I can remember, I’ve longed to be a writer. It’s taken all these years to finally sit down and complete a novel, but I did it. There is such a rush in accomplishing something so big. I’m sure you know the feeling if you have achieved a big goal in your life. The sensation of knowing “damn, I did that” is one of the best feelings ever.
I don’t think I could have done it until I got to this stage of life.
All of these things are the beautiful parts of aging. These things are the freedom to be who you are, the ability to see the end of the line with a bit clearer vision, and the ability to finally tackle the dreams you’ve put off for years.
Now, the ugly reality of aging.
As we age, our bodies change, and the changes we face are not celebrated in our appearance-driven society. This isn’t that big of a deal, until you are reminded that no, your hair is no longer thick and healthy. No, your skin is no longer smooth and tight. No, your clothes just don’t fit the same anymore. You look at yourself and what you see is not the image you have of yourself.
This can be a bit of a shock. No wonder so many people refuse to look at a mirror. When they do, and the images they have in their minds do not match the images on the mirror, what they see is ugly in their eyes.
What they don’t see is the real ugliness, and it has nothing to do with their faces or their bodies.
The ugliness of aging is the attitude we have of ourselves when we realize that our bodies have changed so dramatically. We begin to remember that society expects us to look a certain way. We remember how it felt all those years, trying as hard as we could to fit in to some manufactured beauty ideal. We look at ourselves as we are and, instead of celebrating our beautiful selves at age 40, 50, 60 or beyond, we see ugly. We are not ugly. No one is ugly. We are all beautiful in our own special ways in all phases of our lives. Even when we grow old, we are still beautiful.
What we have got to realize and accept once and for all is that age isn’t ugly. Age is beautiful. Age is wise. With age comes the wisdom of a life long lived.
While part of me wishes I was 23 again, a bigger part of me is thankful I’m not. I’d rather die than have to relive all the mistakes and sorrows of learning and growing into adulthood. No thank you. I’ll take my coming decade instead, thankyouverymuch.
Now when I look in the mirror I see the woman I have become. I see the freckles scattered across my once clear forehead. I see the grey streaks through my dark hair. I see the tiny lines around my eyes that I’ve acquired from decades of smiles. (Man I wouldn’t trade one of those smiles for anything.) I see myself as I am, and at the core I discover that I’m quite happy. I feel joy, the joy of knowing I have made it this far.
Surviving to see another birthday is an accomplishment in itself.
Because I know I’ve probably already lived half of the life I’ve been given, I know at the same time that my life is not quite over. There are more books and articles and blog posts for me to write. More nights of passionate lovemaking with Mr. LaVeaux. More places to travel to, more books to read, more people to meet. There is a lifetime of experiences yet to be lived. Who has time, really, to worry about aging? Life is too magnificent and too precious to waste.
That said, take a number, death. Line forms to the rear.