“Old age is no place for sissies.” Bette Davis
The day was lovely and the gold of Fall was on the leaves and in the air. I felt like twirling, but thanks to an abundant mole population in our yard and recent gallbladder surgery, I resisted.
The older I get the more safety matters.
Still, I was delighted by the beauty all around me. So instead of twirling I prayed. And I said to God, “Father, I haven’t blogged in a while. What should I write about?” I walked ahead certain He had much to teach me in His Creation because that’s where He and I often work things out.
I walked in this garden place for over an hour and the lesson wasn’t what I expected.
Instead of poetry, sweet memories, or Bible verses dancing across my heart, the topic that came to mind over and over involved getting older.
It all started with this end-of-the-line blossom.
It reminded me of my own very thin hair and visible scalp. I don’t even have enough hair for a good comb-over. I pray the tender skin covering my skull doesn’t sunburn because pink shows up through the silver more than pale white.
It’s a real concern.
When I walked on, everywhere I looked there were illustrations of aging. I couldn’t ignore them or the knowledge that this blog post would be the result.
These petals made me think about a woman I saw at the Mall. She was older than me but was doing all she could to look good. Her hair was longer than most women her age, died yellow blond, and curled in a flippy kind of do. She was slender, wore lots of bangles on her thin arms, make-up set on her deeply lined face. She wore tight yoga pants, a long multi-colored shirt, and a jazzy belt around her tiny waist. Her strappy high-heeled sandals showed off her bright orange nail polish. I heard a younger (than me) woman’s voice on my other side say, “Isn’t she a little old to be trying so hard?”
Women can be that way when it comes to other women.
I watched the older-than-me woman swing her flippy do across her shoulder and noticed her snappy steps. I saw her courage and beauty, and I felt a pang of jealousy. Not for her style, although I thought it was great, but she could really move. With grace and ease and confidence.
When another woman, again older than me, walked by her white hair permed tight, her shoes sensible, her watch most likely a worn Timex, her cheeks pink on pale uncovered skin, eyes bright, and thighs a little thick in her polyester sweat pants, one of the other younger than me women had a comment. “It’s too bad she didn’t take better care of herself when she had the time.”
I admired the sturdy woman’s strength, determination, and she too had a grace born of confidence. And her beautiful smile – it went from her heart to her lips, to her eyes.
Watching them was a blessing to me. Listening to the others – not so much.
The temptation to say something unkind to the younger than us commentators crossed my mind. Instead, I held my tongue – not out of self-control. Nope. I didn’t want to draw their attention to me and shivered inside wondering what they might say if they did. I jammed my ear buds in place tight before joining the rest of the Mall walkers just in case. They hurt my ears and I had to pull them out when I turned the corner.
I’d like to say that I took the higher ground in all of this, but that’s not the way it went. While I walked, I decided it was all material and would make a great a blog post someday. There were lessons to be taught about those nasty critics!
My attitude was wrapped tightly in my pride. Not the nice kind. And looking back I see how closely it mirrored theirs. Really. I was looking forward to writing about their unkind words. It would be a good way to “get after them” without them ever knowing. Sort of a secret revenge.
Until my walk in the garden with God.
Because the lessons about age and being a woman and the dangers of unkindness, were for me.
It might not be true of all of us, but age has changed me in ways I never expected.
Here’s what I mean:
Stuff that didn’t bother me before does. Big time. I’m afraid of being frail and more wrinkly than I am now and of being considered unimportant and irrelevant. I worry about the generations behind me because I know they are going to get old like me and it’s going to hurt. A lot. And someone younger is going to sit in judgment of them, and there’s nothing I can do to stop the pain.
There are days I feel like life has picked off almost all of my petals.
And whatever vibrancy I had is fading fast.
Flesh that was once firm or was at least firmly encased in more youthful skin is now fluffy and moves in ways I never imagined it could or and in directions I never knew it would. And I wish I’d taken better care of myself in my youth.
Then there are the dreams that got lost along the way – the ones that might still come true because there is breath in my body, but they might not because time is marching on and even though I knew this age thing was going to happen, it’s a terrible shock that it’s here.
And when I find the courage to sass back, I think it looks and sounds like fireworks, but it’s more like this.
A friend of mine mentioned the changes in her once thick, soft, and wavy hair. She said it’s more like dried out grass – all stiff and stubborn.
Hair really is a big deal.
There are also these spots on my hands, and we are not talking freckles. And veins that are rising the occasion and I have no idea why.
Plus, since I’ve lost weight, I have fewer chins, but the skin that used to be my plump cheeks has dropped and now resembles the jowls of a Great Dane and hangs out where my chins used to. And I jump from skin product to skin product because they make me promises I wish they could keep.
There are days when I’m fine and dandy then someone says something intentionally unkind to me about me or someone else, and my defenses rise like the quills on a porcupine’s backside. And I wear the darkness of their words like a shroud over my spirit. The good thing is that as I age, forgiveness comes more quickly in part because I don’t want to waste my days in the dreary place.
Sometimes I don’t see the traps age has set for me and I walk into sticky, web-like circumstances that leave me swatting the tendrils away. They aren’t big deals, but it’s easy to feel like spider-bait.
Standing in the garden, I felt a laugh bubble up. When I let it go, I realized aging isn’t all bad even if sixty isn’t the new forty no matter what they try to tell me. I remember my real forty and my almost fifty-nine isn’t anything like it.) But in that beautiful place, I felt more than a little entertained and at peace.
Isn’t it just like God to grace difficult truths with mercy and kindness?
I continued my garden stroll, no longer afraid of the rough ground, but instead, captivated by the lesson unfolding in my heart. In the midst of my aging garden, I didn’t want to miss the exquisite beauty all around me.
The wind lifted the end of the season prairie grasses and they danced on its invisible breath. Wildflowers shone radiantly in the golden scented air their drying foliage swirled around their stems the way bangles on a thin arm might. I heard the songs of the bees. Leaves etched with age sang along. And the whole garden seemed to swell in the sunshine blossoms brushing up against each other (sounding the way polyester covered thighs might) and becoming part of the whole melody God wanted me to see and hear and delight in.
Like these two.
In those gentle garden moments, God reminded me that getting old, while not easy, is a gift full of things not always seen or heard or appreciated, but is a bounty and a legacy just the same.
“I think your whole life shows in your face and you should be proud of that.” – Laren Bacall
The elegant Ms. Bacall is right. Our faces and slower bodies are part of our stories. When a stranger notices my scalp (yes – I’ve had them approach me with comments and have overheard their horrified voices say, “She should do something about that baldness! Like I haven’t been trying every blasted thing for years.)
Flushed with shame, I often wish for more hair and fewer sags, so the story that is told without words is more attractive and therefore more relevant, but I’ll do the best I can with the one I have. And maybe somewhere along the way, God will be honored.
Now that – old or young – that’s the best thing of all don’t you think?
And those two older than me women at the mall? While I meandered around, getting in my steps, both of them passed me. Twice. And from what I could see neither of them had broken into a sweat yet.
Their critics? They were still sitting in the food court holding court when I walked behind them on my way out, my ear buds firmly in place again.
Today I felt bad for them and wondered if their unkind words might have been covering up something we all feel from time to time – fear. Of getting old. Of looking old. Of feeling old. Age sometimes brings on insecurities galore.
Before I close, I gotta tell you, those two way cool and full of courage older-than-me women at the Mall and a wildflower walk in the garden with God filled me with hope and healing. While I wish it didn’t have to happen so often, it is wonderful when God gently peels away the pride from my heart and wraps it in His forgiveness.
Until Next Time,