Friday, August 2, 2013
Life in the Middle Ages
This post is not my own work. It is an article by Connie Schultz. It was published in Parade Magazine, an insert in the Charlotte Observer newspaper, on July 21, 2013. I hope that the author doesn't mind that I am using it. It came out just a few days before my birthday and the message hit home. I am now following Connie's posts on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/events/358370294266356/
I do indeed realize that I could have just posted the link to the on-line article. But I chose to re-type it. Goes along with the idea that by writing something down you remember it better. You know, note-taking skills you were taught in school, right? And Connie's message is worth remembering and rereading from time to time.
Bon appétit and enjoy, all my friends of a certain age! If you aren't there yet, I hope that someday you are and that you remember this advice!
The moment of mid-life clarity unfolded at 7:12 p.m. on March 7, 2013. I was fanning my face with a plane ticket after racing to the gate for a flight at Chicago's O'Hare airport, oblivious to the young man running to catch up with me. He leapt in front of me and, in a breathless stage whisper, said, "Excuse me. Do I know you?"
Oh, how easily we succumb to the tug of vanity. My writer's heart fluttered with gratitude for this, a loyal reader. I smiled and rested a palm on my collarbone.
"Well," I said, "who do you think I am?"
The soundtrack in my head screeched to a halt.
I shook my head. "Connie."
"Oh," he said, his shoulders sinking. His eyes darted from the top of my head to the toes of my Tevas. "It's your hair," he said. "You look younger from behind."
Silence, except for the gasps from fellow travelers who forgot to pretend they weren't listening.
At the precise moment when I hoped exactly no one knew who I was, a woman from Cleveland Heights, Ohio, leaned in and said, for all to hear. "I look forward to reading this essay, Connie."
Had this happened right after I turned 50, I might have spent the entire flight slumped in my seat clutching a compact mirror and weeding chin hairs. Five years into this adventure, I laughed and posted the man's observation on Facebook.
So what changed for me in the past five years?
It takes a little time to accept that the world is onto us. Nobel laureate Toni Morrison said in a speech at Oberlin College last year that each of us sees ourselves at a certain age, frozen in time, which may explain why my hair still brushes my shoulders. Inside, I am 27. Outside, I am the woman of a certain age who missed the helmet-hair memo.
I admit to occasional handwringing in front of the mirror, but most of the time I'm having fun reinventing myself. Magical thinking helps, as was duly noted by one of my wise-cracking kids, who will remain nameless because he is my only son.
"Really," he said. "You're middle-aged? Planning to live to 110, are you?"
When I was 30, I read Gail Godwin's novel The Finishing School. One particular passage, in which 44-year-old Ursula advises 14-year-old Justin about aging, scared me so much that I wrote it down and carried it in my wallet for years:
There are two kinds of people... One kind, you can tell just by looking at them at what point they congealed into their final selves. It might be a very nice self, but you know you can expect no more surprises from it. Whereas, the other kind keeps moving, changing. With these people, you can never say, "X stops here," or "Now I know all there is to know about Y." That doesn't mean they are unstable. Ah, no, far from it. They are fluid. They keep moving forward and making new trysts with life, and the motion of it keeps them young. In my opinion, they are the only people who are still alive.
Yikes. I vowed to grow like the weed you can't kill. This year, I'm an American water willow. Last year, I was a hairy bittercress.
Memories tumble out and sustain me. The other day I was dusting a crisscross of Popsicle sticks my daughter had made in first grade. "The best mother," the faded ink reads.
Immediately, I am a newly single mom, walking into her elementary school for open house. A flock of parents giggle as they lean in to read something on the bulletin board. One of them spots me, and off they go.
Slowly, I approach the board and recognize my daughter's drawing of me. "My mother is a bit eccentric," her essay begins. "She has longer hair than other mothers. She is getting a divorce, but we don't call it that. Mom says she is having a growth spurt."
What tugged at my heart then fills it with hope now. Life was hard, and then it got better. Repeat. Fifty was tough, but 55 feels just right.
"I look forward to that essay," the woman at the airport said to me after the case of mistaken identity. My, how she egged me on. A dozen essays are bubbling up for a blog I'm calling "Life in the Middle Ages." Every Friday I'll post a new piece at parade.com/connie.
We have so much to talk about. Reading glasses and puppies. Exercise and falling in love. Grandchildren and high heels. Juicing and social media. Solitude and activism. Food, too. We have to exchange recipes at some point, don't you think?
Add to this list-- you, dear readers. Because aging is a team sport, and I can't win this game without you. And being a baby boomer, I believe everyone should get the chance to play.