As I climb the slow and steady mountain of aging, as time sneaks up behind me, I’m more tentative about my choices, about the paths I take. I pay extra special to attention caring for my body, mind and spirit. I’m also intent on following in the footsteps of faith-fueled wise women who climbed before me, like the reverent woman described in Proverbs who ‘opens her mouth with wisdom‘, the one whose ‘kindness is on her tongue’, ‘whose worth is far more precious than jewels‘.
The one with fading eyes that sparkle.
Her children rise up and call her blessed; her husband also, and he praises her. Proverbs 31:28
For this to me is the sort of woman who is beautiful.
I want to ascend the mountain gracefully, accepting inevitable changes in my body, mind and heart. I want to be present in God’s moments, allowing minutes to unfold like buttercups opening in the sunshine.
I recall mid-year, at fifty two, my skin starting a decent, losing it’s first phase of elasticity. The grim moment when I looked in the mirror noticing two narrow sacs of skin that looked like tiny hammocks, the walls of my youthful imaginings crumbled. I finally understood my Italian grandmother who at 95 years old said, “I feel like I’m 25, but when I look in the mirror I wonder what happened.” My mirror shared unabashed truth – that I arrived at the first step on the doorstep of wither, wrinkle and droop. I finally got it that day, that I would age. I never before wanted to believe it could happen to me.
I thought of those women before me who may have experienced an alarming moment when they awakened to their aging bodies as they undressed at night, noticing thicker waists, sagging breasts, wisps of gray hair, or thin skin on their thighs. I realized, too, like all, they lived, they aged, they died. And they entered the pearly gates where age is no more.
In San Diego, I’m surrounded by glamorous women with made-up faces, fake breasts, and sculpted bodies, and the not so beautiful women who had plastic surgery, those with large, puffy lips, and tightened, shiny faces without a wrinkle. I often wondered why I cringed when I saw women around town, and famous aging actresses, who look a slight version of themselves, like their alien twin arrived on Star Trek Enterprise, their faces taunt, lifted, shifted, Botox pumped, with new noses, wrinkle free. I finally realized, wrinkles are the story lines on our faces, treasure maps of stories we weathered and weaved. Who would we be without these defining lines of our lives? Wrinkles, like tree rings on tree trunks marking their age, are proof we lived stalwart lives, that we branched off in new directions, that we weathered winters, dropped leaves, blossomed, bloomed and produced fruit.
Dendrochronology is the science of studying the past by looking at tree rings. In a similar way, we can study the lives we lived by our studying our wrinkles.
I like to observe elder women, higher on the mountain of wrinkles and sags, those aging naturally, without the tucks and lifts. They warm my heart, especially those comfortable with their round full bodies, pearls around their turkey necks, red lipstick lining invisible lips. I love hearing my dear British mother-in-law saying things things like, “I ate too much bread today and it’s gone more to my chin.” For a few days she might stop eating pastries from the local bakery, “my chin looks much thinner, don’t you think”?
I find even the cranky ladies interesting, those with drooping jowls, burrowed brows, and deep, thick lines like dark trenches in war zones marking their faces, maps of stories unfinished, unforgiven, still miffed about life that they’ll even take it out on you.
The first time I recognized I was aging was when I had taken a part time job at a local Montessori based pre-school when I was finishing a documentary. I needed a distraction, and as my son was then a 10-year old moving toward pre-adolescence, I yearned to be around little children again. Darling little three-year old Annika, with her serious and pensive manner, more like a little woman than a child, looked at me one day, worried and serious. “You look old,” she said. Devastation. My first knock-down, wake up call to aging. In denial, I said, “Oh, I’m just tired”. Later I went home and looked at myself closely in the mirror. I looked old and tired. I hadn’t noticed. I had been busy, worn down with too much work and worry. Tiny spidery wrinkles had formed on my chin, and my mouth turned downward accentuated inklings of falling jowls. Smiling a fake smile, I decided to make an appointment to get my hair highlighted. The next day I actually thought I looked better, somehow my skin looked tighter, or maybe the power of denial was on my side.
Ah yes, the words of the Preacher, the son of David, king in Jerusalem and the wisdom teachings ring true:
“Vanity of vanities, says the Preacher,
vanity of vanities! All is vanity“. –Ecclesiastes
“And you, O desolate one, what do you mean that you dress in scarlet, that you adorn yourself with ornaments of gold, that you enlarge your eyes with paint? In vain you beautify yourself“.-Jeremiah 4:30
Aware of my fortune, that I’m blessed with life, and graced with love and good health, I welcome my wrinkles and tiny sags a whole lot more. And I continue to learn from the wise women who walked before me, the Saints, Ruth, Naomi, Mary, Mary Magdalene, Elizabeth, the blessed followers of Christ, and wise women who understood:
“Charm is deceitful, and beauty is vain, but a woman who loves the Lord is to be praised.” – Proverbs 31:30
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