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