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In a culture that values youth and a “perfect” face, it is easy to worry—obsess even—when the first visible signs of aging appear.
I was studying the deep “elevens” forming between my brows and the fine parentheses forming on either side of my mouth.
And I had a little panic attack.
If I have lines on my face, am I still attractive? Will anyone love me?
A voice in my head (the mean one) said, “Wow, you are looking old. Life is just passing you by. When are you going to get it together?”
You’re right, I think, as I start to calculate how many “good” years I might have left. Why can’t we just turn back the hands of time and have a do-over? I promise I’ll wear my sunscreen, get more rest, and eat perfectly.
“Wait a minute!” another voice chimes in. “You’ve led an extraordinary life, had great love and great adventures. You’ve learned and experienced so much. Would you really deny those experiences and trade them in?” (No, I guess not.) “And, for God’s sake, you’re not done yet. Not even close. Everyone who lives gets a few lines on their face—are you afraid of that?”
“Do not regret growing older; it is a privilege denied to many.” ~ Author unknown
This, too, I know to be true. I have lost too many people in my life, at too young an age to put up any argument here. My brows furrow as I think of those who departed early. And the parentheses form as I smile at the good memories.
I occasionally look back and wish I had made a few different choices, like working as much as I did when my children were young or marrying the first man that came along after their father’s death. If I could go back, I would do better. I would make better choices.
But I can’t go back. What I can do is forgive myself. I was doing the best I could under the circumstances. And even if I learned some lessons the hard way, I still learned them.
In forgiving myself, I have learned to truly forgive others.
That is not something I could do in my 20s or 30s—hence those “elevens.” With age comes wisdom, and sometimes grace.
Aging is a normal and desirable part of life. Aging gracefully and well is what I think most of us want. And as with most things in life, we’d like to look good doing it—as if we know exactly what we are doing.
But the truth is we don’t. Life is unpredictable, messy, and full of choices. There is no owner’s manual; we write it as we go and revise as necessary.
Later in the day, I see an elderly patient. After a life in the outdoors as a rancher, she has deep lines and leathery skin. I look at her and all I notice is the brightness and intelligence in her eyes, the warmth of her smile, and the easy confidence with which she moves. She is coming to me for help with a medical issue, but truthfully, I want to learn from her.
I want to know how she has weathered a hard life of ranching and relying on forces outside of her control to make a living and a life. I want to know what the years that separate us (30 or more?) were like. She is the one I want to learn from and whose wisdom I want to tap. She knows herself; she accepts and respects herself—and because of this, she is beautiful.
I decide this is the kind of beautiful I would like to be.
Yes, I am getting older, but everyone ages—or they don’t. It has taken a few devastating experiences and a lot of contemplation to realize that my great concern with how my face looks as I age has more to do with my self-acceptance and self-esteem issues than anything else. I still want to look good, it’s just that beauty is not tied up in worthiness issues any more.
And if I get to choose, I’ll take aging with all its surprises and adventures.
Here is a practice that I am adopting and invite you to try:
1. Take a look at yourself in the mirror. Rather than focus on details, let your eyes relax and your focus soften. Smile.
2. Take a deep breath and focus on the area around the heart. Feel the warmth that resides there.
3. Let the energy and warmth that is radiating from your heart-center travel up to your face. Take a few deep breaths and concentrate your mind on the warmth and love traveling from your heart to your face.
You may find you experience deep gratitude for your lovely face. For your crazy, messy life. For all the experiences that you’ve been privileged to have.
You may find that you are, in fact, beautiful.