I turned fifty-five a few days ago, and now that I’ve reached highway speed, I find myself thinking that growing older is not at all what I expected. For some reason, I thought that we’d become our parents, but although I do sometimes see my mother’s eyes looking back at me in the mirror, so far I have not developed a taste for Perry Como. On the contrary, I probably listen to noisier music now than I did when I was a teenager, when it was all Billy Joel and Dan Fogelberg. Right now, my little PT Cruiser has blown-out speakers, probably from a Switchfoot CD, I’m sorry to say. I do miss my Infinity sound system from my last car, but since my current car is probably not even worth the price of new speakers, I just let the overwhelming road noise cover the sound of rattling waxed-paper bass notes.
The aging rockers I grew up on evidently feel the same way about the passing years. Steven Tyler still weaves feathers into his hair, although I’m beginning to wonder whether it’s really his hair. Mick Jagger, who was a bit before my time, still leaps out of his wheelchair to prance around the stage, and his lips are looser than ever. All sorts of bands are still out there touring, and some of them, like the Eagles, sound just as good as ever. Not all, though. I mean, Social Security exists for a reason. On the other hand, the AARP seems to be overzealous, if you ask me. Not only do I receive a membership card that I shred every couple of months, but my twenty-eight-year-old son gets one twice as often.
One thing feathers and make-up just can’t hide, though, is aging skin. You can be as emaciated as Mick Jagger or go the Nancy Pelosi route and have your skin pulled back so many times that you can’t even close your eyes anymore, but up close, it’s crêpe. I remember when I was about to turn forty, and my glamorous forty-five-year-old hairdresser held out her arm and pinched. She had every beauty product imaginable around her all day long, and she was very lovely for her age, but when the collagen is gone, it’s gone.
She mourned for her skin, but I miss my eyesight more. I’d always had perfect eyesight, and as an avid reader, I find it frustrating not to be able to pick up any book any time and start reading. On the other hand, if I wore my reading glasses all the time, I’d be walking into walls, so my family and, increasingly, my co-workers are getting used to seeing me with my glasses perched on top of my head, looking for all the world like someone with a second set of eyes perpetually searching the heavens.
Miss Manners once said that nice people never hear what is happening on the other side of closed doors. I’d like to add to that maxim by saying that nice people never see more of a person than that person can see herself. Every once in a while—and less often all the time—I’ll put my reading glasses on, grab my magnifying mirror, and stand in front of a window or bright lamp. This is always a traumatic experience, because I will suddenly realize that everyone else has been seeing the wilderness of my eyebrows, even though they looked just fine to me. I’ll start tweezing away, aware that I probably have many other imperfections that I don’t even want to look for, and I just hope that everyone around me will be much too polite to notice.
My mother did pass down a couple of really good traits, for which I am grateful. One is excellent cholesterol. I always energetically pooh-pooh new reports that cholesterol may not be such a big indicator of heart health as had once been supposed. Let me revel in one healthful characteristic, please! Another nice feature Mom gave all of her kids is slender ankles. Just to be able to say “bony” about any part of my body is so fun that I hate to complain about them, but I must admit that it is really difficult to shave bony ankles. Add to that the not-so-fun spider veins that Mom also passed down, and, coupled with my fading eyesight, it is tough to get things smooth. I love to wear skirts and sandals in the summer, and I enjoy a pretty pedicure, but no matter how hard I try to step outside looking polished, just one little breeze and I experience what I call The Clydesdale Effect. I should just give up and wax.
There is a scripture that says, “Gray hair is the crown of the aged,” and a lot of my friends take that to heart. On the other hand, my 86-year-old mom is eagerly awaiting the day she gets out of the rehab facility so that she can get that L’Oréal Mahogany hair dye back onto her white head. I also have some friends who are aghast that anyone over thirty would have hair past her shoulders and others who proudly wear their silver locks down to their backsides. I think they look awesome, although my hair has gotten a little bit shorter over the years. I plan to compromise, and I’ll probably stop giving my money to L’Oréal when I’m about sixty. I’ve already started warning David about this, since I have a feeling he’s in the “dye until you die” party. Gray hair gives the impression that you have all sorts of wisdom, and so far I haven’t noticed any pearls dropping from my mouth. As a matter of fact, I’m still perfectly capable of cringe-worthy episodes that leave me red-faced for days. Maybe I have it backwards and the gray hair causes you to become wise by working from the outside in.
Actually, I think I may have learned a few things over the decades. I became a Christian when I was 24, and by the time I was 35, I knew everything. It was great. I had studied and studied and learned everything necessary for holding lock-tight positions on all topics. By the time I was 45, I knew nothing. It was devastating. I had had all sorts of catastrophes happen in my life that challenged everything I believed. So, here I am ten years later, realizing that life is just not that cut and dried, and that there are some things I’ll never understand, and I’m OK with that. I do know in Whom I believe, and I have come to some conclusions about things that I think are Really Important. There are other positions, though, that are just not so crucial that they’re worth arguing about. Bill Cosby says that as he got older, his comedy became more careful about God, since he knew that each day brought him one step closer to meeting his Maker. In my mind, whether we’re going 25 or 85, the most important thing is making sure that you’re hurtling headlong into the arms of Someone you already love.