I am not old (Samantha Reynolds)

elderly

I Am Not Old

I am not old…she said
I am rare.

I am the standing ovation
At the end of the play.

I am the retrospective
Of my life as art

I am the hours
Connected like dots
Into good sense

I am the fullness
Of existing.

You think I am waiting to die…
But I am waiting to be found

I am a treasure.
I am a map.

And these wrinkles are
Imprints of my journey

Ask me anything.

by Samantha Reynolds
illustrated by Corrie Haffly

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“When I am an old woman I shall wear purple, with a red hat which doesn’t go and doesn’t suit me…”

These are the opening lines of Jenny Joseph’s poem Warningthe first poem I came across which celebrated aging, and became the inspiration for the Red Hat Society: a community of women aged 50+ devoted to fun (like wearing purple, or spitting on sidewalks, or whatever else takes their fancy.)

I’m not quite ready to apply for the red hat society yet, but as I sit here at my keyboard I see old lady hands poking out the end of my long sleeves: no matter how much I lubricate them, they are wrinkly and my body bears the signs of aging. Today’s poem, like Jenny Josephs’, remind me of the good things that come with age. There is a freedom, a wisdom, a joy that accompanies the marks of aging: imprints of our journey.

When a Wounded Unicorn Goes Shopping

Unicorn shopping

Unfair. That’s what it is.

The skin malady of the teen years is acne: those years of blackheads and pock-marked pustules which scream one’s hormonal changes to the the world. And the skin malady of the aged years is wrinkles: the years of crows feet and feathering and (if you’ve lived well), laugh lines.

But here I am, on the business end of my 30s, looking in the mirror and horrified to see BOTH my fair share of wrinkles AS WELL AS a colossus of a pimple on my forehead. And I just wanted to say: it’s not fair. I expected to trade my youthful slender and stay-up-all-night energy (with its acne) for the older, softer body-after-kids (with its wrinkles). To be lumped with both the valleys of wrinkles AND the mountains of peaks of pimples feels a bit like paying double taxes.

Thanks to my grandmothers’ particularly fair genetic skin type, I also have a good sprinkling of moles and nearly forty (40!!) soft, pink scar lines where doctors have decided that some of those moles were wholly unholy and cut a holey in me to excise the risk. So there’s that. The moles and the scars and the laugh lines (yay!) and the wrinkles. But the pimple is just unfair. And it’s the type I haven’t had for a while: the type that’s so inflamed it hurts when I raise my eyebrows in surprise. This morning I will brave the grocery store, taking care when I round the aisle corners not to bash into anyone with my cart or my inflamed unicorn horn. Shoppers, beware.

Of course, this is not the first time I’ve grappled with feelings of betrayal as I’m getting older. My hair is greying too, and so my daily jaunt to the mirror also raises the question “to dye or not to dye?” These were not the 50 shades of grey I had hoped for.

As always, this requires a little self-directed pep-talk before heading out the door. For if nothing else, becoming a Mom has taught me that my body is not just for looking at, it’s for living in. To despise it for not “looking right” is to dishonor a great gift. As such, it is worth ten seconds of my time to check my inner critic and give myself a different script. My face is fearfully and wonderfully made, and my skin is doing its job exactly: providing a flexible, waterproof, self-renewing shield between the germs out-there and my organs in-there. My wrinkly face will wrinkle in laughter today. My moley skin will provide entertainment for my toddler who likes to count the “dots”. My ageing hands will caress little faces.

And, thanks to a sense of humor and a mental picture of a unicorn, my giant pimple will make me laugh this morning as I turn around corners at the grocery aisle.

“Attention all shoppers! Attention all shoppers! There’s a wounded unicorn in aisle 4….”

Shades of Gray

A few weeks before we got married, I had a watershed moment with my soon-to-be-husband. I left the hair salon freshly trimmed and coiffed, and waltzed into my beloved’s kitchen. “Notice (flick) anything (flip) new (flick)?” I asked. The frenetic head-swaying gave him a clue that he was required to comment on some change, and after several moments of intent study he announced with some relief: “Oh! Look! You have a gray hair!” He looked genuinely confused when I receded into the bathroom, whimpering quietly. “Did I say something wrong?”, he called after me.

This, friends, was how I first discovered I was going gray.

Ten years later, my hirsute “salt and pepper” mix is becoming decidedly more “salty”. The question is, what to do about it? On the one hand, I have always loved the gentle softness of gray. My grandfather had a shock of arresting, white hair, and it was magnificent. Our faces soften with age, and I wonder if gray hair is not God’s way of softening the borders of our faces with these natural highlights.

For sure, gray hair is a sign of aging, and the Proverbs seem to welcome the maturity and honor which accompany the passing of years:

Gray hair is a crown of glory; it is gained in a righteous life. (Provers 16:31)

The glory of young men is their strength, but the splendor of old men is their gray hair. (Proverbs 20:29)

But therein lies the rub. What if I’m going gray but I’m not “old” yet? What if I still kind of have some of the strength of youth (my inability to stay up past midnight notwithstanding), but don’t yet have the splendor of the aged?

In his teaching about speaking honestly without needing to make “cross my heart and hope to die” kind of oaths, Jesus made this passing comment about hair:

And do not take an oath by your head, for you cannot make one hair white or black. (Matthew 5:36)

Au contraire, my Lord. Thanks to Clairol, for several months at a time I can make it chestnut, or mahogany, or natural honey brown. But should I? Is it vanity to color my hair and deny the aging process? Would I be rejecting the “crown of glory” that God bestows? Then again, I wear mascara more faithfully than I floss my teeth, which itself is a daily denial of my true eyelash color.

On the other hand, once you climb onto the coloring bandwagon, it is hard to get off. Hair grows, which means that no matter how permanent the dye, within a few weeks I would have my grey roots showing again down the parting on my head: a “skunk stripe”, as my Mom would call it. Touching up roots is a a big commitment in both time and money, and frankly – I’m in the “lucky to take a shower every other day” phase of life.

Then, there’s the added conundrum that my hair is not only increasingly gray, but that the gray hairs have a life of their own. They are WIRY. Little silvery antenna, angled towards the heavens like the old pair of bunny ears atop our TV. I’m sure there’s a scientific explanation for why gray hair grows out much more feistily than my original color, but I don’t know what it is. This much I do know: I bet if Albert Einstein’s hair had been honey brown, it would not have looked like this:

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I am a collector of ridiculous words, and one of my favorites is the word “quaquaversal”. Apparently it means “pointing in all directions”. ( I learned this on the same night as I learned the word “diapnosophy”, meaning “skilled in the art of making dinner conversation”.) At the time, I remember thinking that I could find ways to use diaponosophy in a sentence (“I would love to invite the apostle Luke for dinner, he’d be a great diapnosophist”), but thought quaquaversal would be spectacularly unuseful.

No longer, friends. For the record, my hair is graying AND quaquaversal. My kindly Mother sent me a top of the range hair-straightening flat iron to kerb the unruliness (“Have a Good Hair Day, my baby”), but for now there is no remedy for the gray. I’m busy and I’m thrifty and I’m generally too lazy to keep up the work of dyeing.

And as we already know, it’s not like my husband particularly cares about hair color.