Mystery breeds intrigue. I believe that. That was sort of my angle when I was a dater. At least I tried to be mysterious. Anyway. It is human nature to be curious about those things unfamiliar to us. I had occasion last night to realize how true this is, and how pivotal a concept that can be, and has been for me for some time now.
When a woman reaches a certain age it becomes not only acceptable but expected that she bemoan this unavoidable reality. At least most regard it as unavoidable. No, I am not talking about botox or fillers or human growth hormones or hot springs. There is of course nothing one can do but age. That is, if you are lucky.
That is how I see it. I didn’t really put words to that concept until catching up with some of my oldest friends from high school over dinner last night. We laughed and compared notes on the kids. Went through the plans for the summer. The latest in school gossip. Then the topic of our big birthdays came up. This is our year. We all turn 40.
Yeah that’s weird and monumental in many ways. Of course it is an occasion to take stock of one’s choices, one’s station at this point in time. Am I where I thought I would be? Do I really look that much older?? Will I never again wear the belly shirt I refuse to part with, hanging all lonesome in the bowels of my closet collecting dust? I have no better grasp on these daunting realities than anyone else. Of course I don’t. We are conditioned to think that getting older as a woman is a fate no one in their right mind would embrace. I don’t love the idea of wrinkles and sensible shoes any more than anyone else. But I realized that I see it differently than some.
For many years now I have had a bizarre fascination with older women. No, not in that way. C’mon. But I look at them. Hard. I watch them go about their lives and I eavesdrop, I lean in. I look at their clothes, their mannerisms, watch them with their families at brunch. I will stop short of saying I blindly worship them, that’s a little strong. But I am very intrigued. They are unicorns to me, you see. Mythical creatures. You can’t really appreciate that unless you have lost a parent far too soon. I don’t have a picture of what it looks like. For me.
My mother and her mother remained eternally glamorous and youthful. Because, of course, they didn’t get to see 60 or 70 or (gasp) 80. I am quite sure when my grandmother turned 40 she bemoaned it plenty. From everything I know of her ( she died when I was one and a half) she was a beautiful, vivacious woman who prided herself on being just that. It oozed from photo paper curling at the edges. Seeped out of every black and white freeze frame from mom’s graduation.
Then, of course there is my mom. A more beautiful woman you would be hard pressed to find. She too embodied femininity and youth, always. But I am pretty sure if either one was here now they would slap me and say “Don’t waste one precious minute worrying about things you cannot change. Make the best of it, hold your head high and be beautiful.” And they would be right.
Getting older is not a given. You just never know. If you had told me at 20 that in two years time my ultra-heathy, fitness freak and organic-food-eating mom would pass away I would have laughed until I couldn’t breathe. Unfathomable. There was just no way. Life has a way of kicking you in the ass like that. So while I paid the ultimate price for this valuable insight, I will preach it. Because, it’s true. It is a privilege to live. It is not granted to you just because.
Over the last few years my dad has shared a story about his father’s passing as it related to his own life. He has said that he never imagined that he would live past the age at which his father died. He was sure that he too would drop dead at 72. And then his 73rd birthday came. I am sure that feeling was incredibly emancipating for him. Just like my 54th birthday will be for me. When it comes, it will be a true victory. I will live those years for her.
So girls, friends. All the ladies in the house. Embrace it, because only the lucky ones get to grow old. What I wouldn’t give to see my 71 year old mother, hear her impart to me the lessons of a life lived well, and gracefully. I always imagine her like a Swedish, friendlier version of Alexis Carrington from Dynasty, walking into the room and dropping her Sable coat only the reveal that its lining matched her powder blue raw silk suit. As if to say, “No, this is my Tuesday sable.” Super glam, owning her wrinkles and proud of every day that got her to that moment I so often imagine but will never know. I wish my girlfriends last night could see what I saw looking around that table at their gorgeous faces. All their knowledge, confidence, love, serenity, and warmth emanated from them as we cracked up remembering one hilarious story after another and shared our collective experience as mothers and friends. There is nothing more beautiful than that. It’s ageless.