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I have a birthday this week of some distinction, in as much as it marks the moment when I become officially very old. I never bother to lie about my age, a practice I find utterly pathetic, so the people in my life all know how old I will be. Some of them seem to have a reaction to my age by looking a if they feel kind of sorry for me, which I find interesting. Reflecting on that fact, I realized that we live in a culture that seems to want to make us feel sad or depressed or even ashamed of old age. We live in a youth obsessed society and if you are anything but young you are something you shouldn't want to be.
I don't have TV or read popular fashion or beauty magazines so I miss out on a lot of the marketing that insists that we all should be trying, with desperation and at great expense, to be 25 forever. It must be extremely annoying to turn on the box and be constantly bombarded with entertainment and advertising that raises the alarm about things like fine lines on our faces or reduction in hormonal levels. On the occasions when I am at someone else's house and the TV is on it seems to me that everything is about looking young, taking lots of medications, and drinking a beverage guaranteed to bring fun and happiness into your life.
I took the opportunity to ponder whether or not I felt ashamed or bad about being the age I am and found that I didn't. Firstly, it strikes me as an absurd waste of time since there is no way to alter the situation or prevent it from happening. You can slather on all the moisturizer you like, but it won't make you any younger. You'll still be whatever age you are and possibly, somewhat greasy. Who knows? Maybe it helps or maybe it is largely psychological. Hard to say. It seems a little late in the game to me since when I was young no one was ever talking to us about the dangers of sun exposure to our complexions or our health. We just poured baby oil all over ourselves and went out to fry in the sun because we thought a tan was cool. Hello sun damage.
The thing is, I don't feel horribly old, not in body or mind. Yes, I have aches and pains I didn't have in my youth, which is unfortunate, but I'm highly mobile. I have lines and wrinkles now, but I kind of feel like I earned every one of them fairly. I'm not crazy about the sagging, but if the alternative is spending a boatload of money to have a deadly disease injected into my face, I'll live with it. My hair is going almost entirely to white but what the heck, I had one or two gray hairs before I was 30. You can't argue with genetics. I'm pretty sure that if I went to a spa for a makeover they would come at me with makeup in a spackle bucket and a trowel and ask for a break half way through the business, but so it goes. Trying to look 20 when you can barely remember 20 is probably a nearly full time job. Slapping plaster on an old building might make it look a little better but in the end it is just a well-kept old building. The best you can hope for is that it is a charming and well-kept old building.
I was telling my brother the other day that I was walking down a street and passed a large window and saw myself reflected with some shock. My own mental vision of myself does not match up precisely with the reality and I find myself wondering if the older woman reflected in the glass is actually me. Yep, it's me alright and I am not young. And so it goes. Time schools us all.
My method of dealing with aging is to focus on the ways in which I am so much better than I was than when I was young. I'm infinitely smarter, thousands of time wiser, stronger, faster, better. OK, maybe not faster. Definitely not faster. My mistake. Most of all, I am a better person now in all the ways that have become important to me. I am kinder, more compassionate, more tolerant, more selfless, and more loving. I am closer to the solace of nature than I ever was and infinitely more insightful. I am able to find happiness in moments and not in the expectation that things around me will all align correctly in some magical way that insures happiness. All the losses I have suffered and all the pains and disappointments have been just a part of the building materials that created the gains I have made. I like to think that if you are a better and more complete human being at this age than you were at 20 you have probably not lived too badly.
The fact of the matter is that I had all the ingredients I needed to be the person I am now at 20 but I had no idea how to combine them correctly to create the best me. I put too much importance on the wrong things and not enough on the right ones and I had no idea how to determine the right measurements to make it come out right. It took a long time to throw away the things I didn't need and concentrate on the ones I did, and my history of mistakes is legion, but I feel pretty good about how I came out. Experience and wisdom are key, and I know one thing for sure – they only came with age.
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