Lines in the Sand and Everywhere Else

When I was younger, I used to wonder what the demarcation was that proved you were truly a grownup.  Was it graduating from college?  Buying your first house and getting a mortgage?  Getting married?  Having a kid?

I finally settled on the last option.  Being completely responsible for another being who’s helpless had to mark the great divide between maturity and immaturity.  Also, since I was 32 by the time we had our firstborn, it wasn’t like I was suddenly wrenched out of childhood and thrust into the adult world at an early age; it was time to get serious.

OK, so you get to be a grownup and that’s all very well and good.  If you’re as shortsighted and deluded as I am, it never occurs to you that growing up isn’t the final adjustment you’re going to make in your life and psyche.  Until you begin to notice you’re not as young as you used to be.

This happens in a series of small shocks to the system.  At first, they’re easily ignored.  The first invitation from AARP, say.  Your first colonoscopy, status as a “senior” when buying a movie ticket, wrinkles, sags, bags, slowing metabolism, puckering that isn’t limited to your lips.  Any of those little bodily indignities will do.  Singly, they can be ignored; cumulatively, they boost the price of denial into the stratosphere.  You pay for a while, then you figure, well, fuck it.  You’re old.  So what?

To me, the whole aging demarcation is really the loss of potential and possibilities.  Forget dreams of great self-improvement; they belong to another demographic.  No, I am not going to become fluent in Spanish; no, I’ll never be a good dancer; no, I will never — as God is my witness — be an organized person, so I might as well cut out my pathetic little trips to the Container Store (as my husband has long suggested I should, anyway).

So, embrace all your imperfections — fine.  Take a bath in reality; it never killed anyone, right? But, this is where it gets tricky.  Beyond accepting your limitations and no longer counting on getting better every day in every way, you really want to hang onto what you’ve got.  We’re talking maintenance as a goal, which is about as unglamorous as it gets.

I want to age gracefully.  That’s what I have taken to announcing to relatives, friends and total strangers.  Too bad I have no real idea what I mean by that.  But I keep thinking of Anne Lamott’s wonderful remark about her difficulty in giving up anything: She never surrendered anything without claw marks on it, she wrote.  God, I identify wholly with that statement.

So, there’s my definition of aging gracefully: If I can cut down on the claw marks, maybe I’m doing all right.

(Copyright 2010 by Ruth Pennebaker)

Read one of my favorite posts about refusing to shrink

14 comments… add one
  • My latest moment like this? Getting a pretty severe hamstring pull … from bending over to pick up a ball to throw for the dogs. What? So, now I have to warm up for something like that?

  • Oh, heavens, I want to age disgracefully.

  • I”d say you’re doing it…aging gracefully that is.

  • I’ve made plenty of claw marks, and still are keeping my old claws sharpened since I don’t plan on letting go too soon…

  • Purple here I come!

  • Terry

    I dream of meeting you when I am in Austin visiting my son who attends St. Edwards. I have thought I would love to meet you since I began reading you when you were living in New York…now you have quoted Anne Lamont…who I revere…If I see you hanging out at Joe’s coffee on South Congess.. or the Zhi tea shop….I will come up to you and gush…I will be the 55 year old with lots of long gray hair…trying to age gracefully:)

  • Terry

    anne lamott…I have only read all her books.

  • On the one hand, I’m with Duchess. I want to enjoy being able to get away with murder because of my advanced age. On the other, I’d rather not fall apart physically. So, I think I’ll go along with you and Anne Lamott, my favourite Christian.

    When the time comes that I can no longer cut down on the claw marks, it’s a one-way ticket to Zurich for me. Or if I’m really lucky, one day I’ll just wake up dead.

  • Cindy A

    I plan to run amuck, whatever amuck means. It sounds like something you do just before giving in. And, Ruth, I’ve had a similar Container Store experience. Now I have a mamby pamby room full of containers with old electronics, Christmas bows, and Barbie limbs hanging out of them.

  • Craig

    Well that explains it. I just thought it was Peter Pan that kept me from growing up. Now I see it was kids all along. I think I will stick with Pedro.

  • AGING GRACEFULLY =
    Not playing shuffleboard with your four legged cane.
    Being able to wear bi or trifocals without bobbing your head
    incessantly like one of those trolls mounted in a car windshield.
    Never mounting a troll in your car windshield.
    And never, EVER wearing avocado green eyeshadow.

  • Ellen

    Magnificent, Winston! I’m with you on every point.

  • Elizabeth

    Just read your “Lines in the Sand”, that was forwarded from my sister, and Love it. I so agree! I am 57 and have experienced all points that you have mentioned, however I have decided that aging is nothing more than a minor exterior inconvenience……the interior is still no different and has all the same childish enthusiasm for life, with the added gift of wisdom. We are only as “old” as we choose to be!

  • I think, for me, it was when I tore my meniscus while gardening. Not from any effort, mind you. I simply shifted position and wow, the pain!

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