Well Worn

On the floor, rag in hand, I spent the better part of an afternoon polishing the wood floor and the all the furniture. It all seems to need more and more oil as it ages and shows the signs of damage from the elements. My skin is like that too. And then suddenly the sunlight falls on the surface of the old cherry wood table and it seems transformed. Maybe it’s the attention, maybe it’s the light, but the wood looks so new, the colors so vivid.

David Bowie said aging is “An extraordinary process whereby you become the person you always should have been.” Yes, it is extraordinary. And it’s an honor to wake up breathing in the morning and I do appreciate the freedom that comes with this time of life. Still sometimes aging seems to get way out of hand. Something like a thousand years ago I was pretty cute. I used to love being photographed. Now, not so much. The bathroom mirror is a time portal. Without my glasses on I can travel back to the days before this face started looking like it does now. Especially if the light is good and my hair’s up in a towel. Now mind you, I’m not being self-deprecating. And I’m not fishing. Change happens. I don’t even mind the inevitable grey hair and lines. All good. What knocked me sideways was when I first got a good look at the effects gravity has had on my cheeks and neck. When did that happen? Overnight??

There are so many things that become more valuable with age – the rocking chair my husband’s grandfather sat in around 1918, the collection of coins, any wine or cheese worth talking about, that pair of jeans I just can’t seem to part with… And yet we don’t seem to consider our aging citizens worthy of anywhere near as much respect. Greater value is placed on a pair of good Levi’s with a few loose ends than a veteran of life with experience and wisdom. Perhaps the worst part is what we tell ourselves as we age. All my young friends are so loving and my dear friends who are older than I am are more beautiful, more precious to me every year. So why are we so hard on ourselves when we notice the signs of wear as we age? How do I reconcile my tattered self-image with the idea of becoming the person I always should have been?

I must say though, there are benefits to growing older. Delicious benefits. For one thing, I have recently mastered the cloak of invisibility. Honestly. (“The Shadow knows…hah hah hah!”) The other day while I was out running errands, I noticed a sidewalk sale peopled exclusively with folks around thirty. Here’s my trick. Instead of showing any sign that I might intend to interact, I do the opposite, knowing full well that I can walk through this kind of scenario and go completely unnoticed. Invisible. I could pick up a sweater and say, “You didn’t honestly ever wear this did you?!” Of course, I wouldn’t do it. I don’t have the guts yet. You must wait till you’re super old to pull that kind of crack and get away with it.

Another fun trick is one of magical transformation. Think of the basic old lady archetypes. You have your kindly gramma or auntie who listens, understands, loves, and doles out bandages, treats, and encouragement in equal measure. And then you have the evil old witch. All you need is a head of white hair, a little blown by the wind, and a few worry lines in the brow. The power to switch from one to the other is intoxicating.

Let’s say you’re sitting in a waiting room at the clinic like I was recently. A tired young mother is with her little boy. He seems about three and a half and obviously thinks he’s in charge. He’s yelling at mom, whining, pulling, pestering, and generally torturing her. She’s tolerant and patient in the extreme, possibly not wanting to dress him down in public. Or else she’s just given up. I sit back in my chair just far enough so that she’s no longer able to see me – but the child can. I fix my gaze on him until he stops punching his mom long enough to notice me. We lock eyes and I lay it on him – the evil witch glare, the stare that says, “I’m the one you’ve been warned about. And yes, I do hurl spoiled children into my oven at least once a day. Stop this tantrum nonsense and chill.” His eyes widen and he quietly cuddles up on his mother’s lap. One last glance back at me. I raise one eyebrow and smile ever so slightly, satisfied that my superpowers have once again been put to good use.

Maybe it is more than a little humbling at times to face these changes in the mirror or in photographs and notice all the signs of wear. But maybe with a little extra shine and some good lighting it’s okay. Because in this extraordinary process we do get to become who we have always been destined to be – older, but with boundless magic in our grasp.

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