I cannot ignore the fact gray, thin, spiked hairs popped out on my temples. They’re fine like baby’s hair, except of course they’re not since they’re definitely gray, or more accurately, white. There’s a few more framing my face. This is a first.
My husband told me a friend gave him a Christmas present — a framed photo of us from a wedding we attended. But he didn’t show me because we looked old.
I never really felt old before until these last months. Yes, the dreadful hot flashes and foggy brain ended. At first I felt exalted because the havoc of menopause finally halted, until I realized with it went my firm skin. Thin, wrinkly, saggy, sad skin hangs from my biceps and lower belly I’d never seen before. You have to understand. This is not normal. I have to understand, it is. You would hardly notice. But, you see, although my eyesight is also fading, when I look in the mirror, I have microscopic vision. Every brown spot, wrinkle and sag miraculously magnifies.
My son graduated high school this past June. Being involved in both his theater department and many performances, along with driving him to rehearsals and performances for some professionals shows after school for so many years, I had little time for self-pampering, which means I didn’t notice the gray hairs. A while back I did notice the tiny turkey neck forming under my chin like a little hammock, but being busy, I didn’t give it too much thought. But I also didn’t notice how it was quietly stretching, hanging lower. It’s much looser. You probably wouldn’t notice unless you were on the look out like I am now, with binoculars and all.
I didn’t know I’d feel so isolated and aimless after he graduated without the attending to the parenting roles that dominated my life. Who knew the career I left years ago as a television producer would be taken over by millennial video magicians, and I’d feel like a stegosaurus in what once was my business. I also wasn’t thinking about my age. I gave birth to my son at 40 years old, so with the pending empty nest most mom’s face when their children graduate high school, I’m also facing I’m turning 60 years old this year. What? How did that happen? The birthday’s flew by. I wasn’t counting. I was too busy. I actually forgot each year how old I was, and never admitted that was part of the brain drop-outs of menopause.
Why, you ladies older than me, why didn’t you tell me all these things I’d be facing? Did you pass these phases gracefully, or did you fret when you looked in the mirror that moment you noticed you had seriously aged? Did you get on the computer and research skin tightening creams, or did you quietly make an appointment for Botox or Juvederm treatments? Did you read that black molasses can restore gray hair to your original color, or is that a bunch of baloney? Did your body changes happen ‘overnight’, or did you chart their course over time? Was there a point you finally accepted your bodily decline?
All I know, for those of you I have in mind, with your silver hair and soft skin with wrinkles, your loose necks and full bodies, that you look so beautiful. Those of you I think of, you walk before me like graceful queens, always well-dressed and confident, engaged in the world, sharing wisdom, comfortable in your skin, giving back, guiding the poor and those in need, so selfishly. You’re enjoying your grandchildren and travels, not so bogged down by your adult children’s lives or worries. You’re healthy boundary hunters, knowing when to say no, and yes, leaving co-dependency in your wake. You move and have your being with God as your source, and there’s a lightness in your step.
I’m considering you more closely now, wanting to learn the rhythms of your grace. I won’t look too closely though, where I suspect in the sacred pauses of your life, you question and ponder the promises of eternal life. I’m not there, not ready to go that far. But I will continue to admire you.
I spoke with my mother-in-law yesterday about how I feel I neglected myself in some ways during motherhood. Yes, I always dressed nicely and took decent care of myself during motherhood as compared to many women I know, but my focus shifted mostly to my family, where I did ‘just enough’ to look ‘good enough’. I exercised, ate vegetables, and bought designer clothes from second-hand stores so I had more to provide more for my son. So, I told my mother-in-law, I cleaned out my closets yesterday as a way to ‘bring in the new’. I made a decision I’d take better care of myself. Green drinks everyday. Better skin care. New clothes. She shared how she looked at a photo of herself with her grandchildren on my brother-in-law’s shelf, and how awful she thought she looked, her chin skin hanging. And then she said, ‘But, I realized at some point, who cares. It doesn’t really matter.”
I’m annoyed with myself I care so much. I’m deeply spiritual, afterall. Yet, I’m also a victim of confusing, distorting, misleading messages about beauty I’ve absorbed over my lifetime–messages that invade our subconscious minds without our permission. Far too many of us have subsequently adopted distorted self images and hunger for perfection. We bought into the lies about the aging process and the promised fountain of youth. We’ve forgetton the mind of the flesh is a sort of death, but the mind of the Spirit is life and peace. We forgot aging, at it’s best, is wisdom blooming as our bodies downshift.
At some point I guess, we realize, it doesn’t matter. Age happens. Nature wins. We realize in the core of our brittle-prone bones that God is sufficient. I’m not saying a a nip and a tuck or shot of Botox is necessarily a bad thing, we all like to look our best. But our best starts with the glow from within of God shining through. Of the gratefulness for our lives, and deepening relationships. For those who age well, loving others, gratefulness, good health and the fruits of the spirit blooming from beneath our skin matters more than our skin’s elasticity. As Anne Lamott says it best, Joy is the best make-up.
At some point, we finally let go and let nature take its beautiful course. Hair dyeing becomes a nuisance. Silver hair with crimson lipstick, and a lovely scarf look divine. Or we still dye our hair, but we do because we want a little more color, that’s all, like blush on the cheeks. Then we let aging take it’s course like a tree growing higher toward the heavens. Standing tall in our beautiful aging bodies, we walk like ever-poised gazelles through the rest of our lives, following in the footsteps of Sarah, Ruth and Mary, mother of Jesus and all the women who went before us with a few sags and grays, who lived through menopause, and miracles.
He will renew your life and sustain you in your old age. – Book of Ruth 4:15
I will still be carrying you when you are old. Your hair will turn gray, and I will still carry you. I made you, and I will carry you to safety. – Isaiah 46:4
Wisdom belongs to the aged, and understanding to the old. -Job 12:2
Those that be planted in the house of the LORD shall flourish in the courts of our God..They shall still bring forth fruit in old age; they shall be fat and flourishing. -Psalm 92:12-14
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