Via Ann Nichols
on Oct 11, 2013
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age with grace

If you fight age, what is the cost, both financial and spiritual, of living life on the basis that what you actually are is totally unacceptable, and that you are going to devote enormous resources to pretending to be something else?

Yesterday I looked at my left hand, the one with the tattoo and the thumb ring. It was holding a letter from The AARP. The other hand, the one holding the envelope, had a stack of funky bracelets in leather,  metal and stone. The nails on both hands were a green so dark it is practically black.

I’m 50. Maybe it’s time to grow up. Maybe it’s time to cut loose and enjoy the hell out of my remaining years. Maybe I need to embrace the whole thing, act all wise and crone-ish.

I did not love turning 30, mostly because I was still single, but 30 is still so very young that it was easy to tell myself that things had time to turn around. (They did). I don’t really remember turning 40, because I was busy, and I didn’t feel any different on my birthday than I had ten years earlier, five years earlier, or five days earlier. It was just another day—plus dinner out and cards in the mail.

Fifty is eating my brain like a starving zombie. There is, in the middle of my consciousness, a wall of 50 stacked things—planks, coins, Cuisenaire rods, empty Crème de la Mer jars, whatever. (Please note, before we move on, that 50 of anything is a lot).

On one side of the pile are billboards: “age is just a number,” “you’re as young as you feel,” and “beats the hell out of the alternative.” Across the divide are my greying, thinning hair, my mutinous eyesight, and the feeling I get in my left knee after working eight hours on my feet.

My body is aging, and will continue to do so no matter what. We live in a society in which aging, particularly for a woman, is treated like a preventable disease.

I could shrug my (slightly arthritic) shoulders and move on, but this is a real issue for me. There is a societal expectation abroad in the land that a 50-year old woman is substantively different from a 20 or 30-year old woman, and the difference doesn’t favor of the 50-year old.

When I was the 20-year old, a woman past the half-century mark was losing all her “juice” and becoming a creature of tight steely curls, elastic-waist jeans and orthopedic shoes. Now a woman can fight back like crazy with Botox, skillful highlights, Pilates, antioxidants, and laser resurfacing. She can be ageless, kind of, or at least send the message that despite her approaching dotage she is trying for God’s sakes.

(My husband says, and I quote, that I am “mixing up ‘people’ with Hollywood assholes who have a lot of money”).

And when does it stop? At what point does one say to oneself “okay, I’m 80…no one who’s 80 has glossy dark hair, pouty lips and tight, radiant skin? It’s time to stop all of this nonsense and allow myself to be what nature intended?”

If you fight age, what is the cost, both financial and spiritual, of living life on the basis that what you actually are is totally unacceptable, and that you are going to devote enormous resources to pretending to be something else?

Where is the admiration for the wise woman, the sage, the creature who has birthed children, fought battles, grown spiritually and come to know stuff that she didn’t know at twenty? Why can’t such a person grow increasingly comfortable with the realities of an aging body, enjoy her expanded consciousness and simply shine like a beacon of white-haired, age-spotted light?

Not to put words in your mouth, but you are thinking something along the lines of “Just do it! Quit over-analyzing, stop comparing yourself to idiots, don’t read fashion magazines, drink lots of water, do yoga, read books, take walks, take vitamins, eat dark leafy greens, try new things, and ignore the expectations and standards set by a society obsessed with youth and appearance at the expense of everything else.”

(Well, maybe that’s just what I’m thinking).

I’m thinking “wear the bracelets, check out new music, take up new hobbies, stretch your mind and your spine and don’t let yourself be defined by your aches and pains, your age spots, or your need for an afternoon nap.

I’m thinking “live the life your brain tells you to live, and don’t make any decisions based on what a person your age should do.

On the other hand, don’t ignore the self-knowledge that militates against staying up late in a smoke-filled room or taking up rock climbing. Or, more accurately, do those things only if you prepare yourself and accept that you are not Jack Lalanne or Chrissie Hynde. There will be some consequences. The consequences may totally be worth enduring for the experience.”

I don’t want to join AARP. What I want to do is to be kind to myself, and face the facts both positive and negative instead of focusing only on the latter. Unlike many people, I can’t look back longingly at my youth; I may have been young at 20, and 30, but I was also miserable, self-destructive, jealous, tightly-wrapped and fearful.

I may be “old” at 50, but I am also comfortable, interested, alive and open to the universe. Why would I want, for one second, to go back to my youth—even if it meant thick, shiny hair and no arthritis in my thumb?

I’m thinking “trust yourself. In all the ways that matter you get better every year.” I’m throwing out the fashion magazines. I’m making more bracelets. I’m letting myself go… and I mean that in the best possible way.

 Like the mindful life on Facebook.

Ed: Sara Crolick


About Ann Nichols

Ann Nichols has been everything from a cellist to a lawyer, and is currently a Buddhist who gets paid to cook at a Protestant church. She lives in a 100-year old house in Michigan with her husband, her son and an improbable number of animals. You can hang out with her by joining the Facebook group “Metta-Morphosis.”


5 Responses to “50.”

  1. Dawn says:

    I'm with you!

  2. Dassie says:

    Thank you Ann. I love your attitude and positive perspective! I’m in my early 40s, living abroad in a country wildly obsessed with ‘youthful rejuvenation’ both of the surgical and chemical kind. My 33yo friend, who was born and bred here, asked me in earnest if I was considering getting fillers. I didn’t understand the question, so I asked her to repeat it. I was a little shocked, but answered that I would never. In fact, I hadn’t even considered it before then. The most shocking part of that conversation was how casually she’d raised the topic. She could’ve been asking me if I may buy a new dress in the same manner. Not only do we have media embracing youthful beauty above and beyond all. But now it appears that there’s also peer pressure to stay ever youthful. Again, thank you for being a breath of fresh air and speaking honestly.

  3. jaimefranchi says:

    My husband turns 50 next month. He looks better to me now than when we met – when he was 34 and I though THAT was such a mature age. Now I'm 3 years past that age, and he's on the cusp of 50 – salt and pepper hair, a face more weathered than it was when we met. I like him better now. What's more – I like me better now. Every day is an exercise in learning to like/accept myself – and others. Fifty is a lot of those.

  4. tnbroom says:

    Why do the thumbs go first? My left hand reminds me of my aging status many times a day now, but what you said about your 30 year old self compared with the self you know and love now… ba-BAyam! so true. There's nothing wrong with wanting to continue to keep the outside as beautiful as we are striving to make the inside. If I could look like Raquel W, I would ~ but I don't begrudge her anything simply because I don't have the resources, or the genes for that matter, to keep myself in the kind of shape she is in. I do what I can, some days more religiously than others and don't look in a mirror very often. I'm not avoiding myself, but I prefer to see myself in my mind's eye as the visage I remember from 30 and 40 and not the aging, slightly sagging reflection that I have today. A society without mirrors would be a happier place.

  5. Sally Swift says:

    This is so totally, brilliantly you and a positive object lesson for all. Please, accept 50 as simply the wiser, ever more questing you of today. And join AARP, it's so worthwhile… we have earned the perks, discounts and legal equality they fought to get for us. Plus, it's amazing how many active, productive, successful people are in your new checkbox.