Beauty and Aging

“Who would ever want to live beyond age 50?” I said so many times as an adolescent. “There’s nothing to live for when you’re that old.”

The world of youth was mine and when I viewed my grandparents and their friends—the world of wrinkles, gray and balding hair, thick waistlines and potbellies, slowed and tottery paces, out-of-style clothing, and a myriad of other perceived ugliness—I shuddered. Not me! I wanted to be gone before 50.

Fortunately the gods took no action on my immature, arrogant declaration. Today, twenty-three years past my youthful self-imposed deadline for living, I am now what my younger self would definitely call “old.” Lately I have had some interesting conversations with her.

After looking closely at my wrinkles one afternoon, her own soft complexion clear and smooth, she crinkles her nose and asks, “Don’t you hate all those wrinkles?”

I smile at her, aware of the lines that immediately form at my eyes’ outer edges. “I look at my wrinkles often,” I tell her, “and I’ve grown to feel only respect for each and every one. I can tell you stories about each wrinkle, the joys that caused my laugh lines, the sorrows that caused the frown lines. They reflect much of my life’s story and remind me to deeply honor the journey that brought me to this place, this day. I am so grateful for my life—all of it.”

“But, what about those scars on your chin? You must detest them!” she insists, raising one dark, carefully plucked eyebrow.

“Well, that car accident took me as close to dying as I will before I actually do die and I used to feel self-conscious about them. They changed my appearance, but I accept them now because they remind me I was given a second chance at life, enough to learn how much I treasure life. I can never hate them.”

Her brown eyes suddenly become mischievous as she tosses her head, throwing her glistening reddish-brown hair over her shoulder. “Well, then, what about all that gray hair you have? Why on earth don’t you dye it like most other women do?”

“Sure is a lot of gray these days,” I acknowledge, squeezing my soft, permed curls. “Most all my friends color their hair, and I know my hairdresser would love to color mine, but I’ve just never been interested. When silver strands began appearing, at first I’d smile and say I’d earned every one. Now I’m fascinated at how different I look with this frame of gray hair curling down to my shoulders and my lighter eyebrows. Sometimes I think I don’t know the woman I see in the mirror but then I’m reminded that my appearance is simply a reflection of the growth and challenges I’ve been so committed to all my life. I honor that woman for all that has brought her to today.”

“Okay, okay,” she says, tugging at the waistline of her size four jeans. Here’s something I absolutely know you loathe. You’ve battled your weight and waistline all your life. You’re losing the battle, you know!”

“Yes, I am.” I smile with amusement as I recall abhorring the small imperfections of my body. “I wanted fewer inches around my waist, smaller feet, nicer toenails, more shapely legs—so many superficial things that never really mattered. I still don’t have them but these days I focus on all that my body has given me and I can’t possibly think anything negative. These days I care for it lovingly just as it is, including those extra inches.”

She goes to the kitchen, moves lithely and gracefully, returning with tall glasses of water for us. “You don’t run around as fast as you used to,” she tells me. “I see you ease up out of your chair and take those first few steps pretty stiffly.”

“You’re right,” I agree. “Yet, each time I feel stiff, I’m reminded that I want to age with grace and dignity. So I accept and embrace those moments.”

Then I close my eyes and lift my face upward and ponder how richly filled is my life with the hard-won wisdom and work that have transformed me from the sweet but naïve young woman near me to this woman I have become today.

“I feel so joyous and peaceful and more beautiful than I ever did when I was young and attractive by the world’s standards,” I tell her.

She opens her arms to me and we embrace.

(This piece was originally published in May, 2006 in The Senior Voice in Dallas, TX. I was enjoying it again recently.)

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About Mary Jo Doig

At the turn of the millennium, I arrived at a cross-road that brought me a splendid, if unforeseen place, almost as if I were a traveler on Robert Frost's The Road Less Traveled. I was single again, my three children were grown and building their lives, I'd experienced a health issue and was working on an improved lifestyle. I also ached to do two other things: (1) change my long human services career in upstate New York's Catskill Mountains, where winter seemed to be at least seven months out of every year, and (2) move to a warmer place in the universe. My decision: did I want to continue on the path I'd been following pretty much all my life, or could I gather my then-fragile courage and start life brand new somewhere else? These were scary thoughts for a single woman in her late 50s. Five hundred miles away, though, I fell in love with a new mountain range, Virginia's Blue Ridge Mountains, where I knew not a soul except my daughter who was attending college in the Shenandoah Valley, and I moved. I rented a tiny cabin on a mountain in the woods and lived there in solitude for two years, working in a new career by day and, when home, communing with the incredible natural beauty that surrounded me. There I also began to write my life stories, which were aching for release. I joined the Story Circle Network in early 2001, a rich place in cyberspace for women life writers, where I strengthened my written voice and began sharing my stories. I grew there in so many ways and today I'm a long-time editor for the "True Words from Real Women" section of the quarterly Journal, as well as a reader and reviewer of women's memoirs for the SCN Book Review site, another unique place in cyberspace. Then, next year, I’ll again be honored to be program chair for our Stories from the Heart national conference in Austin, TX. I have so many loves: first, my three children: my son, Chip and daughter, Polly, both in Virginia; and my youngest daughter, Susan, in Florida, and also dear family and friends. I must also include my cats Hilary (20) and Button (5). Sometimes I foster cats and kittens for the Humane Society, but Button prefers me not to. My hobbies include reading, writing, editing, cooking, gardening, quilting, knitting, biking, and simply being with the profound beauty of the mountains that embrace my small two acres in the Blue Ridge. The life stories I began writing in 2001 have grown deeper with time, re-writes, and personal growth. Now, all these years later, I believe I've sliced through the layers to reach the heart of my story, and am presently working on the final revision of my memoir, Stitching a Patchwork Life.
This entry was posted in Aging, Change, Gratitude, Health, Mystery. Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to Beauty and Aging

  1. Learning to embrace – in the moment – stiffness rising from a chair … this is a profound life lesson! You put it into perspective nicely. Aging absoutely beats the alternative.

    Like

  2. Mary Jo Doig says:

    Ah, you make me laugh with your last sentence, Jazz. So true. Thank you for your thoughtful comments.

    Like

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