“What Did Mom Say?”
“Aging is shit!”, my mom says every once in a while. Now, I have to explain that my mom is not fond of use of profanity and by no means she is a vulgar lady, and yet she finds that’s the best word to express her discontentment with getting old. There is no room for euphemism here. She is unapologetic about that.
My mom says it with unrestrained resentment and pragmatism. And I tell you more: she is right. Aging – as in “deterioration of the body” – sucks. You feel somewhat cheated: now that you are finally starting to get the joke, you become the butt of it. And worse, a flabby one. Whoever says that aging is not a big deal, it’s part of life bla bla bla, either 1) haven’t experienced its real effects yet 2) is in denial. Or this person is simply lying. (Actually has anybody ever said that, that aging is not a big deal?) Theoretically it’s easy to understand the passing of time but fully accepting its “side effects” it’s another story.
The thriving of the “industry of youth” is a proof that a lot of people – A LOT – shares my mom’s opinion. The promise of a Fountain of Youth is a goldmine for the youth enablers; and this promise is sort of a jackpot to everyone who wants to avoid the unavoidable. But it’s only that, a promise. It can deliver it up to a point. Only vampires and Dorian Gray don’t get old but look the price they pay.
In reality, the only way that we can do this – not getting or looking old – is not getting there. Dying before it happens. But “hey, hey, hey, hold your horses, Bohemian, nobody here is talking about death, ok?” Yeah, nobody wants to die but nobody looks forward to getting old either. Well, that’s the catch! We can’t have both at the same time. Something’s gotta give.
Look, Father Time will catch up with you, sooner or later, regardless of your genetically gifted disposition or how many creams or injections or procedures you had in your face/body, or how many times you went to the gym or prepared those green juices. You can morph yourself in a duck face for all that Father Time cares. He will find you and get you by the balls or any other vulnerable part, if necessary, with that scythe of his. And it’s not going to be pretty.
I used to disdain my mom’s aging remarks and dismiss the way she was handling some situations in her life until the day she questioned me: “Do you realize that I am not as young as you? I am not fast, I do things slower now.” It was a punch on my face. Bad daughter that I was, taking my mother for granted, thinking of her as a female version of Highlander. I deserved zero in empathy. Maybe I was blindsided by the belief that my mom would be there for me forever… and young, too. It hit me hard at that time and harder later, when I started to become aware of my OWN mortality. Aging is my destiny, too… Well, if I’m lucky enough to enjoy this privilege.
Aging is tough for everybody. More for some people, sure. I am not saying that it is unattainable to age gracefully, with dignity. I am just saying that even when this is the case, it must be hard when you see the new herd getting the greener pastures while you are getting closer and closer to that unkept spot, farther from the sunlight. Sort of a perpetual ostracism. We know the world favors the young, bold and beautiful and delivers the goods to them. Only to them. Sometimes a bone is thrown to that side of the fence to uplift the spirits but neh… It’s not a juicy one. And I think this is what my mom feels: disregard, disrespect, condescendence by the society, receiving the “old people” treatment. (I had an aunt who refused to benefit by a law in Rio de Janeiro that provides free and unlimited access to public transportation in the city to senior citizens. She chose to pay for her tickets. My dad, on the other hand, couldn’t be happier. He loved being carded because he looked younger than he was. Actually, my aunt didn’t look her age, too, but I guess the “psychological effect” of seniority was, not surprising, harder on her.)
Fortunately my Mom is a healthy and loved woman, on her way to a 84th birthday. Her memory is a little fuzzy but when she quickly tells me “don’t ask me questions, I don’t remember anything”, part of it – I think – is that she doesn’t want to recollect the time when she was a vivacious, attractive woman, Audrey Hepburn-like, full of dreams and expectations for life. Seeing her beauty and youth deteriorate before her eyes might have been tough for her but disappointments, regrets and opportunities lost hurt her more. We all could relate to that, at some point. In my opinion, this influences big time how we deal with aging. As much as we hold dear to our victories, accomplishments, personal landmarks – whatever – we also carry injustices, tragedies, failures, mistakes, shame. But this is all part of being human. The sooner we realize we can’t achieve perfection (as we, originally, are not fit for perfection anyway), and that we should be more forgiving with others and specially ourselves, the most enjoyable will be the ride in this life.
I just turned 48 years old. I feel very much awake and alive. The world still feels me with wonder, and that, my friends, is my fuel. I laugh a lot. I AM better, in a lot of ways, than my younger version. The idea of perfection was never really part of my sentient being even though I can be a hardcore perfectionist. Am I contradicting myself? Maybe, I’m human, but I assure you that life has been teaching me (usually one punch at a time) when to let things go, how to pick my battles… It took me 48 years to grasp this concept but I like to believe that there are more roads ahead of me. So it’s getting better, dammit! Isn’t that a great feeling to have?
On another note, it would be nice indeed to stop seeing the skin of my face sagging. It’s a fact that my jaw line is losing the contour and if I have a sleepless night, my face doesn’t show it, it screams. When I notice some little white spots in my body, I ponder if there is an Old Sassy Fairy sprinkling magic paint on me (not very popular, this Fairy. No wonder we don’t hear about her).
The Japanese have an ancient aesthetic philosophy rooted in Zen Buddhism called Wabi-Sabi. It’s the art of finding beauty in imperfection and revering authenticity. It’s welcoming the truth that we are all transient creatures in this world – our bodies and all the organic and material things – and we are returning to dust. We are in this process of returning to dust the moment we are born! So if we can learn to still see the value and appreciate a cracked plate, a chipped vase, a stain on a wall, a faded garment, why can’t we accept our messy, chaotic lives, or our decrepit bodies? Warts and all (maybe literally?). There is a story behind all that’s “used” and “manipulated”. It’s a story of life spent.
Accepting the natural cycle of growth, decay, and death is looking to what it’s decrepit and ugly and seeing beauty. They are all result of life manifesting on us. And it has to be a good thing. My dad used to say: “Is your allergy making you sneeze? Good, you’re alive. Dead people don’t sneeze.”
Now back to my dear and wise mother (because wisdom is one of the perks of aging, if not the only one). You are right, mom, aging sucks. But I’m glad to be alive. I accept my fate, though, hoping that my journey is a long and healthy one, full of love and laughs, family and friends, still learning and being mesmerized by the world. Keeping the high spirits when facing obstacles and when looking in the mirror might be the main challenge. Considering that we have our basic needs covered (food, shelter, peace!), then our task is to learn to appreciate the real beauty of things in all its imperfect ways, the real beauty of this world and the people around you. If we do that, let go of judgement, we will then pass through our wrinkles to see the beauty of our own souls and be happy about our existence. In other words, seeing our ordinary lives as something extraordinary. I hope I can do that.
My mother is some phases of her life. Real beauty is ageless.