The year I turned 56. And for the first time, it was not a birthday I welcomed. It would be the first one without my husband of 26 years. My daughter was leaving home and moving to Colorado just five days later. And I looked in the mirror and felt old. Not just older, old.
It is not something we often admit, certainly not in public or polite company. And yet there it was. I looked in the mirror and saw ….
- Skin that did not snap back the way it used to.
- Wrinkles in new and ever-expanding places.
- Gray hair that showed more quickly.
- Age spots that had become constellations across my arms.
- I needed glasses to put on my makeup.
- Even the shape of my body was changing. No longer quite so pert nor quite so round.
- Gravity was having her way with me.
I considered turning off the tap to this train of thought but then decided, what the hell? In for a penny, in for a pound. Let it pour, let it rant, let it overflow the banks. No way out but through. And so, the pity party raged, and down the rabbit hole, I tumbled.
Stories about being old and used up, with nothing to offer, and nothing to give.
The flirting was finished, and the feeling of being delicious and desirable was done.
I imagined what it would be like to walk into a room and feel invisible, no longer noticed, or considered.
The painful questions seeped out from beneath mud and slime.
- Who would want me now?
- Who would want me like this?
- Was this all that was left?
To wrinkle and dry, and ache and break, until one day I blew away like the dust that we all return to.
Good Lord — take me.
At that point, I considered gorging on pizza and Haagen Daaz chocolate ice cream. But then I’d probably be sick as well as sad.
I sat with the spewing for a while, giving it permission to swirl and shift and finally settle.
After a time, a voice asked, kindly, gently, “Is that what you truly believe?”
With a deep breath and a wiping of my eyes, I considered and answered as truthfully as I could.
Acknowledging Some Truth as I Am Getting Older
I acknowledged that this was a particularly challenging time, grieving and loss, and more change than I thought I could manage.
I acknowledged it hurt, still hurt, all hurt, though not as much as before.
I acknowledged I was getting older, no spring chicken. Closer to 100 than to 10.
But I also noticed how many of these fears had to do with how I believed I would be perceived.
I noticed how many of the fears were based on an ‘outside’ looking in. And these fears were fed voraciously by a culture that wanted us to believe we were not enough, never enough. Instead, we were taught to consume, yearn, and follow the leader like good little sheep, in hopes that one day we would find our way to enough.
But we have been given a cracked mirror.
So, what could I learn from this raging pity party?
It was good to let it out.
It was good to purge it.
It was good to shake it, bake it, and burn it out.
And then it was time to put that cracked mirror down.
Trying Self Compassion
It was time to try, instead, to see with eyes of love and compassion, kindness and trust. To believe that there was meaning to it all, even if we didn’t fully know what. To trust that we had been gifted with this life, this mystery and that it was ours to experience until our very last breath.
I couldn’t change that I would age, nor the effects of that aging on my body. At some point, my body would give out and I would die, a fact, like taxes. I confess that end frightened me.
But until then, I could choose how I lived my life. I could choose to write and perform and create until the day I couldn’t lift my pen or speak a word. I could choose to travel the world and learn to sail a boat or fly a plane (maybe not the plane).
I could choose to enter a room and reach out to friends and strangers, believing I was seen, I was welcome. Just as I could find the courage to reach out to others, embrace them, and welcome them.
We all get to choose. In this great mystery and wonder, we have been given the gift of life. It is for us to take the days, months, and moments that we have been granted and live; be they good days or bad. It is for us to live as fully, as thoroughly, and as richly as we desire.
This year I turned 60. My husband has been gone for five years. And though I think of him often, I know he will always be a part of me, I am living with the rising sun and each new day. Grateful, still grateful for the life I have been granted.