I am compelled once again to write about aging. I am on the cusp of a birthday that will land me solidly in my late 60’s. After two years of unpacking the emotional upheaval that emerged around my 65th birthday, here I am. The process is speeding up. F*k.
As a teenager I was a disciple of Seventeen Magazine. I remember sitting on my yellow and green flowered bedspread with my friend Cathy, the glossy pages spread open across our folded knees. Between the fashion and make up “must haves” was a suggestion to have some fun imagining what we might look like when we were older. We were instructed to grab a mirror and place it on the floor, lie on our stomachs on a bed, and hang our heads over the edge. In addition to the blood rushing to our brain, we could look at our reflection in the mirror beneath us. That, said the bold print, would show us what our middle-aged faces would look like.
The face looking back up at me was a collage of my mother and grandmother. The skin no longer held taught to my check bones. The smoothness around my eye sockets now baggy. The weight of my eyelids narrowing my gaze. I was horrified. Yet we laughed. It was unfathomable that could happen to us.
Now I occasionally pick up House and Home or the Oprah magazine, or a self help book that promises to propel me into the realm of joyful and fulfilling old age. There are testimonials preaching the science of longevity; eat greens, do strength training, and track my REM moments and blood pressure blips on my wristwatch. Dotting the pages between the editorials are promises of age reversal serums, surgeries that turn back time, and vacuums that will suck fat from my belly and deposit it on my cheekbones. Once that’s done, I can live in a gated community with everyone else who looks like me and goes on river cruises.
Last week I was paired in a lady’s day golf event with an 80 year old woman. Untouched by the religion and societal sway of anti-aging interventions, her grey hair, lined skin and tiny frame radiated vitality. As she quietly placed the club face behind the white orb, and took an easy swing back and through, the ball soared straight and far, landing in the middle of the fairway. Her teeth didn’t blind me, and we laughed often. I was inspired by her authentic and humble nature.
I often feel overwhelmed with the media feeds and religion of anti-aging. I am envious of eastern and indigenous cultures – elders are revered for their beauty and wisdom. While we strive to stay relevant and look like our children or movie star photos, they settle into their excess skin and grey hair. Their life experience is considered worthwhile, a teaching tool. Rather than launching a defensive regime against time, they cherish it. Family gathers closer, rather than fanning out into “they’re busy with their own lives.”
In the war against aging my emotions toggle between sadness and anger. Beneath those layers of expression is fear. Fear that I’ll be invisible. Fear that I’ll be excluded. Fear of the whispers of swollen lips and taut faces questioning why I’ve let myself go like an old hippy.
These feelings weigh heavily, suck my energy, and wither my spirit. I sit nurturing memories of my parents, both infirmed and wanting out long before their hearts stopped. From the outside looking in, they aged gracefully and were active until, almost suddenly, they were no longer well. My mother with a broken hip and dementia. My father with long stay cancer. I vowed, as I stood grave side, between my two brothers as we held hands, that I wouldn’t live my elder years like they did. I would commit to this world only as long as my health span and life span were in synchronicity. While I have minimal control – it feels like a comfortable approach to my final quarter.