I have been taught to fear age.
It’s no secret that we are a youth obsessed culture, willing to do anything, buy anything to stop or even reverse the natural progression of our lives.
Women are told that “40 is the new 30”, but only if you look 20, and if you don’t, beware, you will become invisible. A woman without sex appeal in America is considered as interesting as a discarded soda can on the side of the road—she is utterly without value.
So we fight to stay relevant. We slather on the creams and lotions, we get our asses to the gym, the yoga studio, the bike path, we dye our hair and paint our nails, we look at photographs of Halle Berry and try to decipher what her secret is—beyond genetics, a professional team of stylists, wealth and photoshop.
At a certain point I realized, I can fight this all I want, but 40 isn’t the new 30, it’s just 40—or 43 in my case, and it’s not as scary as everyone makes it out to be.
Aging isn’t all about how our appearance changes, although that’s what the beauty industry would have us believe; it’s simpler and more profound than that. It’s about inching closer to the event of our own death. If we can accept that reality, our priorities change. We move from wanting to be “forever young” to cherishing the life we have right now.
In the last few years I have felt an easing of the burden of this fear of aging, as if I’m settling into myself, just like a house will settle into it’s foundations, making creaking groans of relief as it heaves a sigh and lets the front porch be crooked already. I examine my wrinkles with interest rather than dread. I am relieved that I am not the 20 something sex-object I once was. Who was I trying to be sexy for? Leagues of anonymous souls who neither knew me nor wanted to know me, beyond what my body looked like unclothed.
When I was young, all I wanted was to be grown. I hated the helplessness of being little. When I was in my twenties, I couldn’t wait for the madness of the decade to end. I knew I was stupid, but I couldn’t figure out what my problem was. I spent my 30s recovering from my twenties, growing my family and surviving the death of a child.
Finally, in my 40s, the place society insists is the beginning of the end, I am somewhat at ease.
What I love about this age is that I have a modicum of wisdom, a lot more patience, and a willing heart. It feels so good not to have anger or neediness rule my actions, and to leave the snarling, hapless pit bull that I was behind.
Here is what no one ever tells you about age, or if they do, if you are young, you don’t believe them:
Age is elegant and profound. It is an opportunity to be better in ways that count. You have had a lion’s share of lessons imparted to you, and if you learned something from them, you are in a position to learn more. You have had your heart broken, and you have lived, so you believe in the strength that keeps your heart beating. Things and people have come and gone in your life, but you have remained, and you know now, you are inviolable.
Our bodies are merely vehicles for our soul. As we drive them around and get in accidents, put the miles on, there’s going to be collateral damage.
I’ll never be a shiny new red BMW ever again, no matter how many body shops I go to. But the miles I’ve racked, the images I’ve seen through those windows, that are layered in the rearview mirror like a sun splashed kaleidoscopic lens, are more beautiful than my exterior ever was.
I am not old. I am not young. I simply am.
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Editor: Rachel Nussbaum