When I was in my 40’s I was afraid of getting old. I fretted over my new wrinkles, started sleeping on my back to prevent my pillow from crushing lines into my cheeks. I pulled out the new grey wires sprouting amongst my brown locks, and for a while, I dyed my hair so no one would notice my frightful change. I worried about menopause, would it ever end, would I suffer permanent brain damage, would I ever lose the weight, would I ever sleep again, would I ever find my keys. I stopped wearing silk blouses because the sweat stains were too depressing. For all the security of my professional accomplishments and the sage wisdom of my experience, which seemed like a lot at the time after 40+ years, I was not wise about aging. I was looking for the cure. That’s ageism.
It never occurred to me that there was anything good about getting old. I saw the benefits of old trees to the forest, but I never considered the contributions of old people to the community. I was prejudiced against the physical signs of age, the sags and bags and creases and folds. I associated age with being slow, forgetful and out of touch. The old people around me were my parents and grandparents, their friends and relatives, and I loved them, but I did not see them as my destiny. I did not think of aging as my obligation, a service to my species, a gift to the future. I did not think, oh, how cool it’s going to be when I’m 90. I feared aging like lions, and tigers, and bears, oh, my!
It took years to get over the shock of looking in the mirror and seeing my mother. You might think a 66-year-old woman would identify with her own age, but the truth is I still look at other old people and see them as old. That negative characterization is ageism. In my own mind I’m the same person I was 50 years ago cruising bare skinned in short shorts and a pair of boots that could kick holes in the soul of an unsuspecting man. The psychic twist of aging is no matter how old I am, I’m not the one who’s getting old. My inner voice remains the same, creating the illusion of youth in my head.
Now the signs of aging that I feared in my 40s — wrinkles, grey hair and menopause — are so incorporated into my being that I don’t see them anymore. Likewise, the life changing events of my 50s — broken marriage, death of my husband, downsizing and starting over — are behind me. Been there, done that. These days I’m enjoying the freedom of my new life, the strength built lifting heavy spirits and the resilience gained by bouncing back. Life is a fun ride once more and I don’t want to miss anything, so I’m crafting my buzz, soaking up the moment, also probably forgetting something, but whatever. If I seem out of touch it’s because everything that matters to me is right here, right now. I’m not searching, not climbing, not waiting. I’ve arrived. My fear of aging is gone. I just wish my 40-year-old self could have caught a glimpse of me now and been reassured that beauty evolves. Serenity gathers in us and finally we are whole, leaning into the future, fearless of the years.