All of us are aging. The alternative is to be dead. But our society can’t stand the word, much less the idea, so it tries in every way to pretend it isn’t there, telling us to get rid of the signs of it… cover it up, pull it up, stretch it, take it off…anything but ‘go with it.’ If you watch television, do you ever see a woman ‘anchor’ of a certain age, who has never had her face lifted, injected, who doesn’t color her hair, who, even so, looks lovely in the reality of her actual age? Do you see older models of clothing or makeup? Let me know the next time you do and I’ll be sure to tune in. Even one of the largest clothing labels in women’s apparel has decided to change from older to younger women models so they don’t lose the youth oriented trade. Nice message. The betrayal made me ditch the brand.
Our visual media broadcast the message that youth is the be-all, end-all. Sad. And, sadder, I, too, was under its influence and did my share of denying, trying to hold back the tide of aging… creaming, potioning, pealing, dieting. Doesn’t work. It’s like trying to keep the ocean from eroding the shore. La mer will prevail. The negation of my forward moving age did not, however, allay fears of illness and death. In denying who I really am, I finally realized, I was denying who I really am. Because I’m a person who deals with reality…who has been resilient and who is ultimately confident in my self and my ability to get through whatever life hands me. And, I suppose, that’s why when I look around and I see all the terrified women…and men…trying to stem the tide of life, I am sad.
So, as someone confronting the reality of my age and my looks I am more sensitive to the world around me. But I don’t see strong, aging and resilient women in any medium, except perhaps for Dame ‘Maggie’ Smith on Downton Abbey. She is, in her character and in the real world…herself. Can you imagine her otherwise? And we love her for it. And Dame Judi Dench also comes to mind for her willingness to be her age in plays and films and in life. It gives all women a boost. But, there is most certainly not enough age diversity in the media just as there has not been enough racial diversity for too many years. And it is deflating not to be a part of the scene, the discussions, the inspiration, perhaps, for a wiser, more honest approach to the truth of life.
I love antiques, especially old wood, its patina growing lovelier as it incorporates into itself the bumps and bruises of life. Like a treasured old table, or desk that has survived its many moves, the many hands on, the accidental spills and wounds of its generation but which, because of its wear, has added beauty, meaning and loving value. We’re lucky if we get to be antiques. And it would be lovely to know that our society recognizes that we have much life and wisdom to give and that youth lacks what we can bring to the table or the television screen.
Sadly, I no longer get Valentines in the mail. What I do get are offers for what I suppose sellers believe should matter to a woman in her seventies: Burial Plots; Scooter Chairs; A Walk-in Bathtub/Shower Combo; Medical Alert Bracelets; Assisted Living Facilities; Full Body Scans; Vision Aids; Discount Arthritis Medications; Four Pronged Canes; Fashionably Painted Canes; And…ah, yes…Remedies for Bowel and Bladder Dysfunction.
I’m anything but unaware. I deal daily with the vagaries of aging. And I have to do it alone. Demons knock at my door: “Look out! Be careful! Don’t fall! You don’t really want to sled down that hill!” (Yes, I do!) I tend kindly to myself and am aware that I need to adapt to whatever limitations I have or may have in the future. I am, thank goodness, a healthy 76. I still can walk miles even though I have an arthritic hip and a back that looks on x-ray like my own Rocky Horror Picture Show. I eat healthy foods that are in line with my ethical principles, try to avoid doctors, choose chocolate and red wine instead, and I only know that I am old when I look in the mirror or someone offers me a seat on the subway.
Our bodies know they are aging. Our hearts will, in the end, pump the exact number of beats they were meant to pump. We can help our bodies by eating right, exercising and making sure to tend them when they are ill. But by changing our faces we still won’t live longer than we’re meant to live. And, I don’t want a 20 year old face on my body when it’s had enough of this world. I want it to show that I’ve lived…and I want to say: ‘Ya done good, honey’ to every single crow that stamped its feet across my eyes. In my face you will see the evidence of my life, every pain, every sorrow, every joy, every thing I was while I was here.
So, please join me as I celebrate my 76th birthday year with a glass of wine raised in the toast the French love so well: “A la Vie, Comme Il Vient.” To life as it comes. May yours be healthy, happy and bountiful.