The Best Part of Growing Older in a Young World by Sophia Rose
It's Not the Knee Wrinkles
Photo by Carolyn V on Unsplash
A man from my home town died yesterday, from COVID-19. He was 57, the news report said. Sort of old, I thought. It took me a moment to remember.
That’s how old I am.
I could be that man, the one that others think, eh, well, he lived a good amount of his life.
But, no! I have 30 years left, at least, right? Good, happy years.
I want to buy a sailboat and live on it. Not when I retire, but soon. I love yoga. And kayaking. I travel full time and work remotely. I’m learning Russian.
I say these things to convince myself that I’m not old, despite the wrinkles developing just above my knee caps. I say these things because being older means I matter less than younger people.
I know this is true because I used to believe it. My 25th birthday was a mournful occasion. I truly thought my youth (and therefore my life) was over.
I laugh at how silly I was, but the depression I felt was not just ignorance of what aging really means but a reflection of our youth-obsessed culture.
In my mid-30’s, I was the manager of a midsized office and one of our assistants, Sarah, was turning 21. She had regaled us all week with her birthday plans, featuring large amounts of drinking.
I wished her a happy birthday at the door as we were leaving on Friday. She was a decent sort, and despite her clear desire to be on her way, asked what my plans were for the weekend. I admitted what I had not yet revealed — that she and I shared the same birthday.
“Oh!” she exclaimed, delighted. “And how old will you be?”
“Thirty-six,” I said, without hesitation.
Sarah recoiled, unable to hide her horror. I nearly laughed out loud. She groped for something to say, to no avail. Completely at a loss for words, she turned and fled. That night I wrote in my journal, If I had known, at 21, how little I knew, I don’t think I could have gotten out of bed.
At 57, I still think I’m in my prime.
My acceptance of my current age (but never the one to come) makes me wonder, what if society and movies and social media celebrated aging, instead of peddling 1,000 ways to disguise or delay it? What if we grew up with the idea that growing old was a journey to power instead of a long slow decline?
What if growing old meant that I was valuable? What if old meant that I was able to weather changes with equanimity, having seen so much of it? What if old meant that I had wisdom, self-respect, kindness and a deep wellspring of compassion? What if old meant I was strong and deliriously in love with life and brave and voraciously interested in all there is to learn?
Because I am.
Of course, my interests have changed since I was 36. How not?
I tend to focus on mindfulness, relishing each moment, glorying in the way that sun glances off the water, and the feel of grass under my feet. Seeing with a child-like freshness is really a kind of hyperawareness.
I found it — perfect awareness — for a few seconds the other day.
It was early morning, and I was doing breathing exercises before getting out of bed. All of a sudden, I was between. I don’t know how else to describe it except for between — a place that is no place and has no time.
I sensed the air, the sun, the water, the plants and time itself as separate alive things, each with its own awareness. I had become so completely attuned that everything that I never notice stood out in stark relief. “Oh,” I breathed. “This must be what the masters know.” And three deep slow ecstatic breaths later, it was gone. The air no longer seemed alive and time marched on in the way that it usually does.
But it was enough. I saw reality outside the confines of my own solipsistic perspective, and it was incredibly alive and ancient and endless.
It is easier, now I’m older, to live unconcerned with other’s thoughts. Judgments, voiced or not, of who I should be and what I should do are a personal jail. But this jail has a door that sits wide open.
Two years ago I met a man in his late 30s at an expat event in Egypt. He was cordial, but dismissive, as often occurs when young men meet women a generation or two ahead. A few days later, I saw him again, unexpectedly, as I left my yoga studio. Before long, we were engaged in a deep conversation about life and inner truth — well beyond the topics that usually arise with virtual strangers. Just before parting, he admitted, “You know, when I first met you, I didn’t see how interesting you are.”
Depth and intelligence and, yes, beauty, are not reserved for the young.
Wisdom glows from within, transcending age and time with its particular form of beauty. When we stop focusing on crow’s feet and knee wrinkles, we begin to accept our true selves, the part of us that is timeless. We must be courageous enough to walk through the door leading from the prison of self-judgment, to the truth that awaits on the other side.
You don’t have to be a certain age to walk through that door, the one that frees you from yourself. But it is a journey you make alone, and no one is on the other side applauding. The only reward is the mirror, the one that reflects who you really are.
Dear people of all ages and no age in particular: there is life after wrinkles. And it is amazing.