I got up at 5:45 this morning and went to the bathroom to clean my teeth and brush my grey hair. When I looked into the mirror, I saw a face that surely didn’t belong to me. That was the face of a stranger; a face that I had not seen before. Eyes wide, mouth open, I stared in mild shock.
It was the face of an old woman, with lines and sad eyes and wild hair, down turned lips.
Then, the face smiled, and I recognized it as my own. Laughter lines can change the way we look as well as the way we feel and how others see us. Laughter doesn’t recognize age. I think that my first impression of shock at looking into the mirror was because I was wearing the eyes of a young woman. Deep within my subliminal, is a perpetually young girl. It was me at 17 looking at me at 77 and not recognizing myself.
Our bodies get old with the passing years. Our ability to be active and nimble, to dance and run, to skip, work hard diminishes imperceptibly with each day. Some of us refuse to admit it, others fight it with surgery, pills, exercise, while others just give in to the change.
I have always wanted to accept growing old gracefully and joyfully. Age has its rewards. You have a family to gather around you, grandchildren, memories to dwell on. Most of all, you have the wisdom that comes from living life to the full, in all its facets. You have the gravitas, the position, the right (de jure and de facto) to tell people what you think without fear of reprisal. People tend to respect your opinion too.
My best friend of more years than I can recall told me the other day that her kids still think of her as the solid rock, the pillar, the solver of all problems, the center of their lives. I told her that my children feel exactly the same way. Ask mom. Mom will know. Mom has been the go-to person all their lives. Mom the repository of wisdom to dispense.
We both agreed that it can become wearisome and burdensome. We both agreed that we want to lay that load down now and just sit quietly in the sun and reminisce, and then we both admitted to each other that it was a fool’s errand and wishful thinking.
We will NEVER give up. That is a tenured position. Ours for life.
In a conversation with my granddaughter the other day about work, she told me, “Nanny, you are full of those Guyanese aphorisms.” I told her that the wisdom behind those aphorisms has been learned over the years, and that they help us understand and accept what life offers.
BUT OLD is as OLD feels.
Deep down inside me there is still a young girl wishing to devour romance novels, while snacking on green mangoes with salt and pepper. Somewhere in my heart lies hidden the desire to run and dance and sing, sing, sing – in gladness to be alive. To be beautiful. And healthy. Somewhere deep down, there is still a bubble that will burst and reveal thoughts that can bring blushes. Thoughts about boys. And wonder why they are so contrary.
Play practical jokes on my friends. Think about a special person. And wonder why my heart is beating so fast. Share deep, unholy secrets with a sister – secrets that might cause my revered father to blush and my prim mother to scold for days. Walk down to the bridge over the canal to read my book. Look at the moving water and dream…
Walk home in the gloaming with the shepherd behind the sheep and goats. Run, hands spread wide, across the golden fields of ripening paddy. Capture the birds’ nests. Climb trees to pick the ripening fruit. Fish for snook and catfish in the canals.
I became a teacher. Motherhood came and with it, the responsibility of raising my family to the best of my ability while holding down a full-time job. If I’ve done anything good with my life, it’s that I have three of the best children. It didn’t come easy. No time for doing the things most desirous; no time to dawdle with unimportant but joyful things; no time to sit and have a good cry when things go wrong.
Just keep going.
Do what comes next.
Just try your best.
One thing at a time.
If I wanted something, I knew the best way to get it was to work for it. No one would drop it in my lap. I never wanted, nor expected that.
So here I am at 77. With an old woman’s face. An old woman’s body. A body that has accepted the passage of time, I hope with grace. I hope that even so, I can still smile, still play a practical joke or two on my family. My heart is big and young with my love for my family. My thoughts have lagged behind in a place where youth lives. Those thoughts enjoy living in that place. Sweet nostalgic moments, youthful exuberance and innocence – looking at the world before me.
And, so, ever so often, I visit those thoughts back there in time. And then, as I commune with them, I THINK young even if I can’t DO young.