Part One: Things that are Horrifying: Mirrors, Wrinkles, Mortality
One of the freakishly horrifying things about aging is realizing the truth of mortality. Freakishly horrifying because most horrifying things are rare. Getting mugged. Being in a plane when it loses an engine. Skydiving for the first time. Bringing your firstborn home from the hospital and starting to realize what you’ve gotten yourself into. Those events, whether unexpected or intentional, don’t happen very often. The fear, sometimes paralyzing, is time limited. Whether there’s a good outcome or a bad outcome, the panic of it comes and goes fairly quickly. Even bringing that baby home, the horrification is short lived (even if it does revisit you periodically over the next many years).
The difference with aging is that it happens every single day. It’s typical. It’s inherent in breathing. It can’t be avoided. It’s desirable when you stop to think about it. It’s a source of daily gratitude to a benevolent god. Hand in hand however, it too often also feels…or looks…like the slowly evolving work of a dark magician. Forces of good fuel the earth’s rotation, keeping the sun and moon on schedule and gravity doing its thing. The dark magician using those same rotations day by day to remind me when I look in the mirror that the passage of time and gravity have a price. Horrifying.
As someone who has almost nothing of true significance to worry about day in and day out, having any level of angst about how well my skin doesn’t fit anymore is wasted energy. My life has been so fortunate damn it and who knows what I did to deserve it? Perhaps I weathered 50 prior lives, the first one as a soulless poison dart frog, and had to slowly earn this life. However it happened, the life I ended up with came complete with parents who told me every day how much they loved me and I could be anything I wanted to be. Throughout this life, opportunity just kept coming.
I’m not saying I haven’t worked hard, overcome obstacles, endured some trauma. I have. But not as much as so many on the planet. My world does not look terrifying, it looks like a big ball of happiness. I would love to say all this happiness keeps my perspective balanced and I only feel gratitude for every passing day. But no. I look in the mirror and fret. Sometimes I even feel horrified.
There is an ongoing conversation about the damage done to girls and women in our culture as we learn to measure too much of our value based on beauty, determining our own value by comparison. Beauty becomes a competition by middle school if not before. I always ranked in the middle. I wasn’t one of the pretty girls but I was one of the smart girls and “cute-ish” girls, so adolescence was survivable. And yet, I still catch myself wondering how I rank among other 50 somethings.
I don’t think it out with this many words in my mind, but the gist of it is this: how does the falling of my face, the long lost visual desirability of my thighs, and the growing crepey-ness (eww…crepey is such a creepy word) of my neck and arms compare? So counterproductive! Pondering my fading cute-ish-ness, besides that it’s crazy, is such a waste of time. These are the words that should be in my mind: I’m healthy and strong. I have happily grown, independent sons. I am financially secure. I travel. I work. I create. I have great friends. And on and on.
It’s not really the reflection in the mirror that is horrifying. It’s the reminder of mortality. Mortality grows ever more real in my consciousness as my reflection grows more “mature”. As the decades pass, there’s been a weird disconnect between the maturity of mind and spirit and the maturity of body. Away from the mirror, it’s so clear my very mature and very evolved mind and spirit are full of ridiculous wisdom and grace because I have mastered about a thousand life lessons and survived at least a million more. Stepping back in front of the mirror invites a different reaction: “Oh shit! Look at me! I have less than half a life left!”
What to do? Building a world wide campaign for the prohibition of reflective surfaces does not seem realistic, nor a good use of my remaining decades of my life. Perhaps responses less rooted in denial would include:
Aging is hard. I think about it, not obsessively, but too often. The plan is to write my way to a better place. So be on the lookout for part two. My hope is that other women will join me and share the horror and the laughs and failures and successes to an eventual place where the wrinkled, but supremely at peace, warrior goddess rules.
This was first published in Publishous on Medium. Find it here and wander around for other great reads at https://medium.com/publishous/a-ten-part-journey-to-peace-with-aging-796a824bda88
Hi, I'm Donna. Long time artisan/creative. Full time work in nonprofit world. Mother of two adult sons. Currently, also mother of two cats.
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