I’m not old, at least, that’s what I tell myself. The number on my driver’s license would have a snarky response, as well as the fact that I can’t clean both floors of the house in one morning flat anymore, would say different. And with another age showing up uninvited this weekend, I’d better make up the guest room because it’ll take up residence.
“Just remember, once you’re over the hill you begin to pick up speed.” Charles Schulz foretold. In fact, some years those age numbers seem to actually burn rubber! Reminiscing with one of my Cub Scout grand boys, I told the tale of another scout and his Pinewood Derby adventure. Smart aleck mom that I was those years ago, I stuffed a fishing weight into the belly of my son’s little wooden hot rod before he sanded the heck out of the wood putty that covered it. Since there were no strict rules at the time, we were pretty free to think out of the box and did. Mixing creativity with built-in speed, he won the Derby handily that year. Made sense but doesn’t explain the acceleration that now propels birthdays so swiftly around the track. I’d say it was the junk in my trunk but oddly, the J-Lo butt has sailed and age-related gravity lightened that load. The only ballast left is the iPhone in my back pocket.
Gone are the Dixie cup ice cream and pin-the-tail games of kidlet birthday fetes. With life flashing before your eyes at an amazing rate, I’m darn lucky just to grab a brownie before the supply runs out. Watching my life replay at warp speed, gulp, it’s equal parts thriller, romantic comedy, chick flick, and tear jerker. I suspect it’s a lot like yours, give or take some emotional special effects. Whether or not I love everything that flashes on that big screen in my head, it all happened and it all made me who I am today, whoever that may be. But no matter how anyone would rate my life’s movie reel, it is entertaining, though not always in a good way.
“Some day, we will all die, Snoopy,” said Charlie Brown.
Snoopy answered, “True. But on all the other days, we will not.”
I’d like to say ‘I’m not getting older; I’m getting better’ but I’d have to ask — at what? If the answer is perception, sensitivity, awareness, I’ll take it. After all, if the best years of a woman’s life are the 10 years between 39 and 40, I’m way past my expiration date anyway. I need to hold on to all the good stuff about this age and the numbers to come.
As Marianne Williamson said “You might be depressed you’re no longer young. Be ecstatic you’re no longer clueless.” Well, duh, correct on both counts. It’s never been truer that if you knew ‘then what you know now’ you’d change a whole lot of things. Yet, you’d hold on to some things with all you have in you.
Each time I watch a Hollywood award show I’m amazed at how age is so well camouflaged by plastic. Now I’m not criticizing the artistry just the apparent necessity of it. Done badly, I squint to guess the identity of that new face until their name is announced and I gasp. Done well, I’m admittedly a little jealous but still too chicken, cheap and philosophically opposed to take that leap. Our desperation to hang onto the gold ring of youth says a lot about our inability to own up to mortality, to the gray, and the wrinkles. In our grief over the inevitable changes to our once dewy youth, we miss the point. Owning our age, and all the stuff that comes with it, allows us to pass the torch to our kids, to younger colleagues with earned wisdom. It allows us to work on the stuff that we didn’t have time for in the childrearing years, in the striving to break the glass ceiling – or just to break even. If we want a new outlook, we need a new narrative.
“How old would you be if you didn’t know how old you are? ” Satchel Paige
Does it feel great to look in the mirror and not see the person you saw yesterday — though yesterday was about 15 years ago? Hell, no. Would we all prefer a fairy godmother to wave the youth wand and take away the years and the crinkles? Sure. How about the last time you were in CVS, looking pretty darn good, and that guy who once upon a time would have done a double take, only has eyes for the deodorant he was looking for? Yeah, swell. Still, no topical cosmetic miracles can uncover beauty within; the beauty that only living, sacrificing, and learning brings. Those hated wrinkles testify that we’ve navigated the peaks and valleys of life. Each line and crease tells a different story.
Now that we’ve established that youth was a few birthdays back (okay, a few decades) it doesn’t mean you’ve hung up your curling iron – or pumping iron either. John Glenn aptly said “There is still no cure for the common birthday” and there are plenty of pesky reminders that we’re not in kiddy Kansas anymore. But life, and all the hell and happy it entails, made us who we are. Failure as well as wins, grief as well as love, all defined and refined the lines, not just the parts of us we like.
“We are always the same age inside.” Gertrude Stein
My birthday last year was the first after my husband died and I was never more aware of life and loss. One year older than I, my husband never got to see the number of candles on my cake this year and he’ll never joke again about getting old. They say age is a privilege not everyone gets to have; not my husband nor my 19 year old brother or those caught in the terrible Las Vegas massacre this past week. So what’s the takeaway? That birthdays, like everything else, are a symbol of life and this week I choose to be grateful for mine.
While knowing there are more years behind us than ahead, is always a bittersweet reflection, life is best lived one day at a time. If we put age in perspective, we can frame it gratitude for actually being here to growse about how old we are. We can think less about the multitude of candles than the breath we still have to blow them out.
And hey, senior citizen discounts ain’t a terrible perk.
If age was a Level we achieved, my age now would be really badass. Like Pablo Picasso said, “It takes a long time to become young’ and now I’m squarely in the zone. I care a whole lot less about ‘what people think’ and sweat less about the small stuff. I get to love up my kids as cool adults, as well as my grandkids, the best bonus ever. I have more time to reflect, write, and learn new stuff (if I don’t procrastinate). But, most of all, I’m more patient, aware, grateful — and, yes, still here.
Thoughts on getting older? Tag, you’re it.