As I write this, I’m only twelve days away from my 40th birthday.
I have friends for whom this particular milestone has felt difficult, who’ve seen it as the point at which they’ll begin to get old and, therefore, to deteriorate and leave “Glorious Youth” behind.
I’m happy to be almost 40.
I’m happy to have lived for 40 years, to have been given so many new days, and to still be fit and healthy and with the possibility—even the probability—of more days, more years, more health and vitality ahead.
I’m marked and scarred.
So far, I’ve yet to find my first grey hair, but that’s more than made up for by blemishes and smile lines, stretch marks, burst blood vessels, loose skin where my belly stretched beyond belief to make room for three babies and never quite recovered, and the scar where I had to be cut open as a last resort, to let them out.
I’m decorated with experience.
My body is a map of my lifetime—a growing, organic story that leaves its mark on the vessel that is the physical manifestation of me.
This poem, then, is a celebration of being—of living, of growing older and of the process of aging.
We live in a culture in which youth is considered to be something to grasp: an impossible ambition, something to which we should all aspire (in spite of the obvious paradox of aspiring to be—or appearing to be—something less than we actually are, something previous, something that is, by definition, merely a stage we go through, before moving on.) It’s an achievement to accept, let alone embrace, our physical signs of aging.
I am determined to embrace the evidences of who I am and where I’ve travelled.
I will not succumb to the lie that “Beauty” (or “Worth”) and “Youth” are one and the same, nor that youth is something to chase, despite the impossibility of ever catching it. I will expend energy to grow in health and fitness—of body, mind and spirit—but I will do this from the perspective of who I really am:
A Soul in a Time-bound body, that bears all the marks of my journey so far.
Every mark on me tells a story:
As circles in a tree’s trunk,
and every cell of an Autumn leaf,
so every smile-sensitive crinkle around my eyes
holds joy and grief.
Every stretch and scar
—every speck, every blemish, every line—
is my personal cartography of my humanity, this far—
that Time and I have travelled, hand in hand
—our footprints, in the metaphoric sand…
Every mark tells a story
—a tale of wisdom and wit—
and is proof I didn’t just imagine it
—dream it up from the rich and fertile soil of my mind—
but lived it, one step at a time
—and live it still.
Every mark tells a story and I will treasure each,
for all the memories there
—for what those memories teach—
for winding pathways,
and for the weathering of many storms…
You wide-eyed, unmarked faces
—smooth and new and bright—
consider, please, the option not to buy
—the fairytale, the lie—
that beauty is defined by unmarked youth.
Embrace the bolder truth, the wider sky
and celebrate that overflowing souls
will decorate the Time-companioned skin
they choose to travel in.
Love elephant and want to go steady?
Editor: Catherine Monkman
Image: Author’s Own