I don’t know if there is an art to aging. Certainly, there is more science involved. Cells breakdown; muscle tone sinks further beneath dimpled skin; lines grow like vines– first around the face, then down the neck until they travel throughout the body wrapping themselves in and around every crevice– confirming the theory of gravity first introduced by Sir Isaac Newton himself.
Yes, there is plenty of science behind our journey towards decay. However, I have never been too interested in science. All those formulas, hypotheses and experiments don’t begin to explain the incredulous emotion involved in realizing that the image in the mirror is reality, while the one you identify with more closely can only be found in old photographs (like the ones taken with actual film.)
Pondering this is enough to give anyone frown lines.
I was stunned when I found my first gray hair. My hairdresser literally pulled it out of my head to convince me, because I kept insisting that what he was calling gray was actually a sun-kissed streak of blonde. Unfortunately there was no mistaking the silver, wiry thread pulled from my scalp. I took it home with me secured on the back of a hot pink post-it note. It sat on my desk for a month before I finally threw it out, more so because I didn’t like the clutter on my desk, than because I had accepted that my head was the origin of the hair.
Like an adolescent who is wavering between urges to become a woman or stay a child, I too feel confused reconciling that beauty and youth really do fade despite my ardent efforts to retain them, and our culture’s obsession with marketing them. Yet in some ways I feel more beautiful and youthful than ever. Not because I am, but because my chronological age has allowed me the experience and wisdom to feel confident about whom I am which turns out is so much more than how I look.
I can spend an entire day in workout clothes, no makeup and hair twisted haphazardly in a rubber band, without any shame. Sometimes I feign shame, but really I am only trying to be socially appropriate. I have no shame. I never could have done this in my twenties – neither the feigning nor the fashion faux pas.
In some ways I feel like I am at the perfect point in my life. I am still fortunate enough to be in good physical shape and I know how to successfully conceal the occasional blemish or circles under my eyes.
But best of all, I feel good. I am happy and somehow that in itself makes me beautiful and youthful. I finally know what I have and at the same time can benefit from the wisdom to know that it’s fleeting. The phrase “use it or lose it,” finally means something to me. Because of my age, I’m not afraid to do things that scare me, I am afraid not to.
I may not look as good as the girl I used to be in old photographs, but that poor girl never realized how good she looked.
Aging is of course, relative. For my children, it is a conduit to freedom. The oldest who is still plenty naive, idealizes the notion of adulthood. He doesn’t see the responsibilities it brings, but only the liberation to eat hoards and hoards of candy. (Like that ever happens in adulthood, at least without unsightly consequences.)
What is that old adage — youth is wasted on the young? Instead of enjoying the exploration of fantasy, imagination and all that is magic in childhood, he is lamenting the limitations of his youth.
Trailing him is his younger brother, who is so eager to do all of the things his older brother does that he gets upset when their age difference is relevant. We just tell him he has more happy times left than his brother, hoping it will teach him the joy of looking forward instead of feeling like he needs to rush to keep up.
Perhaps the real challenge is to learn to appreciate the advantages of whichever age you find yourself whether it’s seven or seventy, knowing that each offers something unique. And all the happy times that make up a life don’t come at a single age nor do they stop at a certain one either.
It’s not that I think aging is so terrible. It would be foolish to not to recognize the wisdom and perspective that it brings. It’s just that it is such a reminder of our mortality. And while I have been aging since conception, it is only now that I feel like I am on the cusp of really grasping the enormity of it. Not just the wrinkles, but the time that they define.
What have I filled that time with?
The answer to that question is where the art of aging is most brilliant. Coloring experiences within the lines of time to create the life you want. That is an art. Not the life you have. Not the life you settled for. Not the life you squandered. Not the life of perfection. Maybe not even a gravity-free life. But the life you created following your own unique desires. It will be the true legacy that has left color on this world. It is what transforms the science of aging into an art form.
So whatever you decide to fill your time with, I hope you will make it your masterpiece.