Aging fascinates me. And I’m not talking about just the growing-up part from a tiny, helpless, yet oh-so-wise infant to a fiery independent three-year-old to a smarty-pants, rolling-eyed second grader. Those “growing-up” stages are captivating and heart-breaking all at the same time, but that’s for a different issue.
We were looking at pictures just last week of our trip to Florida when Alida was just a baby. Suddenly there I was in the airplane, ready to begin a new adventure with my last baby on my lap. “Oh, wow, short hair,” I commented, surprised again to see how short my hair was then and to realize how long now. And then Patrick said, “Wow, Mama looks young.” Yes, indeed, I do. But that was just three years ago! When did I become not-so-young-looking?
But okay, my secret it out. I had already noticed my saggy skin around my face in the picture Alida took while I was hanging upside down for yoga. By now I just try to tame the unruly gray hairs sprouting all over my head, instead of yanking them like when they first began appearing. And I admit, I have spent time in front of the mirror checking out the beginning of soft wrinkles around my eyes and mouth.
But it caught Patrick off-guard in that moment, just like when Burkhart announced to me he had discovered and been examining my gray hairs during a funeral service. It seems often certain individuals in my community are surprised to find that I too have aged. Not because they didn’t think it would happen, but because I have always been that young, vibrant Dora.
I heard once that during the phase of life when one is naturally beautiful, it cannot be enjoyed because of the immutable thoughts determining otherwise. In youth we are all gorgeous, but we can’t really enjoy it. And the great irony of it is when, later in life, we have come to terms with ourselves and feel comfortable in our skins, we have to work hard to prove we are beautiful. It is no longer effortless. This straining – just a bit too much make-up, the hair arranged perfectly, eyebrows overly plucked – reveal that unspoken wish to again be effortlessly beautiful without the complicated teenage anxiety.
But at some point, we women who are aging will have to come to terms with the frivolousness of this desire and relinquish it. Does this mean we have to “let ourselves go” and can only find it acceptable to wear ugly, bulky sweaters and baggy pants? Of course not! I think it means I need to somehow grow old gracefully? But how?
Often I can convince myself that I am “as cool” as your typical teenager. I remember what it was like; I was sort of a part of that “in-crowd”. But then when I do in fact find myself in a room with teenage girls, I am smacked with how far removed I actually am. And it’s not just about the newest mode that I happen to find absolutely awful, but it’s about the years of wisdom and life that separate us. Yes, they are beautiful in their innocence and youth, but I would never willingly give up the wisdom I have gained to again become one of them.
I believe this is a part of grace: learning to accept ourselves, not as we were twenty years ago and always striving to become that person again. No, as we are in this moment.
I am struggling with whether or not to color my hair and if yes, when should I begin. Patrick, luckily, is very much against it, but I also sympathize with those who choose to color. I say “Patrick is luckily against it” because I feel it takes off some of the pressure to “stay young”. On the other hand, there is certainly pressure from what is accepted culturally. My sister colors her hair because she feels she would otherwise look ten years older. And I have seen a woman who colored her hair, suddenly appeared as a white-haired woman after she briefly stopped and has decided to go back to coloring because she indeed looked at least ten years older. Why is it only acceptable to look ten years (or more) younger than your real age, but (gasp, God forbid!) looking ten years older is absolutely intolerable?
It is not really surprising, however, in a culture that aims to forget their elders, at least when they seem to become cumbersome. It has been declared that no one has to grow old, not if you eat the right foods, drink the right amount of fluids, use the right hair dye, engage in physical fitness, meditate enough and go under the knife before the wrinkles really start to catch up with you. It is a farce, and it is time to stand up and proclaim that I too am growing older, one gray hair at a time. And it is good.