I remember the first time I looked down and saw my mother’s hand at the end of my arm. It was unsettling and I felt old. That was 20 years ago! Twenty years ago!
What a young whippersnapper I was back then, although you would not have ever convinced me of that at the time. No, I was middle aged. And that was old. Then. It’s funny, isn’t it? How when we were younger, what we thought of as old isn’t that old now that we’re old? But there was no denying I was aging. I tried to make it funny, if not always fun, but that lasted only briefly and soon I was asking friends, “Does my hair look grayer to you?” Most quickly looked at my “do” and changed the subject. But I already knew it was.
I noticed aging first in people my age. They started to look old and making that old person’s sound when they stood up. You know the one. It starts with what might be interpreted as a heavy sigh and is followed by a sound like someone causing internal bleeding. It most often occurs when attempting to free a body from whatever sitting position in which it now finds itself frozen. I also noticed my peers pace had slowed some and they began to tilt a little more toward the earth as they walked. I thought, “Lucky me. I’m not that old,” completely ignoring the fact we were the same age. And just when I thought maybe, possibly, could it be, that I was immune to aging dust? Or to turning into dust? I learned the truth. Which was, “No.”
I was “showing signs of age.” That’s how we say it when we aren’t really accepting we are actually doing it. We’re “showing signs”. Mine included more wrinkles appearing around my lips, eyes and, good God the neck! What happens to a woman’s neck as she ages? What have we done to deserve such a thing? I began comparing myself to the wild turkeys that roam the pasture north of my house but soon I wasn’t winning that comparison, so stopped. And there is nothing I could wear to cover it up. Turtlenecks actually made me look like a turtle; a really old and layered one. Open collars drew attention to the multiple chins now dangling under my jaw. There was nothing I could do short of tying a bandana around my face. Which by the way only draws unfavorable attention when entering a bank or retail establishment. Just trying to save you some unneeded embarrassment, because showing a couple of chins is more pleasant than a strip search!
Oh, yes, back to the hands. Since that first realization that I was becoming my mother, or at least her hands, they have only become more so. Now they are looking more and more like my mother’s hands looked when she got old. They have become more creased and the fingers have developed a slight permanent bend like I remember my mother’s doing. The veins and tendons are more pronounced and they’ve lost some of their grip.
But the face! Oh my, the face! I remember when it was once tight and a smile didn’t remind me of a topographical map of southern Utah. My entire body of skin is now in rolling hills mode. The whole damn body is “showing signs” and I can’t stop it. It appears to be a natural part of life. Why didn’t anyone tell me about this when I was young? What? You tried? I wouldn’t listen?
Well, maybe that’s the true gift of youth. When young, we rarely listen to old people, especially when they talk about being old, which they do a lot. But I like having had all those early years when I didn’t worry much about getting old. Sure, I could have taken better care of myself. But, I’d still be old. If I was lucky, anyway. That’s where I see my luck now manifesting. I’m feeling lucky to be able to grow old. And I’m still growing too. I’m learning more about myself all the time and sinking deeper into whom that is. I like that. And I’m learning I like who I am in this skin and this body. This wrinkly, baggy, costume for my eccentric soul has served me well.
That’s why I’m no longer accepting that what is happening to me are “signs of aging”. Yes, I know, they really are. Wrinkles, bent bodies and groans are happening and it’s not likely this process with stop. And I honestly I hope it doesn’t for a while. So I’ve set out to make peace with it. To make peace with aging. It’s real. I am growing old and older. Damn it! But there is such harmony and groundedness in settling into my body and accepting its natural unfolding and becoming. I love my body more than I ever have because I know it better and more intimately than I know anything else. It has been with me my entire life. We grew up together. I know that sounds a little silly. But it really is true. If we make friends with our bodies we have a friend for life.
I’m working on learning how to love, care for and nurture my body. It’s a process and a practice. When I ask it what it wants, assuming it will respond it wants a salad or a walk, I am often surprised when I hear it say, “Just love me. Love me as I am.” I’m working on that. One of the first steps has been to stop looking at the growing miles of wrinkles as a sign of “old”. I now call my life, love and laugh lines my “Twinkles” knowing that I earned every last one of them so should wear them like gold stars!
My face – my entire body really – is a map of my life. The bumps, the blemishes, the scars and wounds – many still healing – are all reminders of my passage through this life. And I’m grateful to still be moving forward. May this trip continue to be one of laughter, love and learning. And may my Twinkles become bright reflections of a life well lived and long remembered!