age matters

wiccan women

I turned 75 this August. I celebrated with Richard, my husband of 32 years, at Cliff River Springs, a Shangri-La of an oasis about 60 miles north of Santa Fe with a spring-fed pond deep enough to swim in, endless hiking trails, grazing deer,  fabulous yellow hummingbirds and 1200 acres of serenity. As a hospice worker I was always fascinated by my patients in their 90s who couldn’t fathom how they had suddenly become so old. When I asked how old they felt, they almost always named an age somewhere in their 40s.  I understand now.

What struck me as I celebrated this milestone was how there were no rituals to greet me, to drum, whistle, applaud, foot stomp, even tattoo me into elderhood.

It’s scary to come out as 75 years old. Our culture I think does not appreciate older women (insert eye roll). The makeup tips for older women on Youtube go up as far as 60, and then we fall off the screen. Gah…who even wants to think about a 75 year old woman applying makeup. Maybe coming out as an elder now is as scary as it was for my friends to come out as lesbians 50 years ago: The fear of rejection, no place to see yourself positively mirrored in society, a skin-crawling sense of shame.

But I’m feeling an uprising, a yearning to embrace this age, to finally grieve the loss of fertility and youth and all its endless possibilities, surrendering to all I’ve fought so hard to resist. My skin has wrinkles in places that surprise and shock me, there are white spots on my shins I never noticed before. What the hell are they anyhow?? Then there are the increasing short term memory losses…for the life of me I could not retrieve the word watercress yesterday as I stood looking down at the acequia that flows through this land. Watercress. I had to ask Richard.

I think I have many more years to live, but who knows. What I do know is that I want to live them as a flourishing elder, not someone scurrying to look younger, wearing spandex and texting with my thumbs.

I think about Toni Morrison who wrote for an African American audience, who described the experience of blackness, not in relationship to the white gaze, but apart from it, whole and entire in and of itself. She said: “Racism keeps you from doing your work. It keeps you explaining over and over again your reason for being.” I think about the male gaze, and how it has defined me, kept me from doing the work of validating myself… fixing my hair just in case, checking in a pocket mirror for food in my teeth, dabbing on a bit of lip color…certainly not the scarlet red of youth, but something the counter girl (girl!) at Lancôme suggested was a shade flattering for mature (mature!) skin.

Am I mature? Have I matured beyond lusting for the male gaze to reflect youth, fertility,  the call to sexual adventure in a sleek body? And if that gaze turns away because it sees an older woman? Can I put down the burden of my need to be seen through the lens of  desirability and claim my age without flinching? Without adding that cloying tagline…but hey, age is just a number.

Age is more than a number. It’s battle scars and wounds so deep they never really stop bleeding even if they no longer show.  It’s having survived back alley abortions; some of us didn’t. It’s having fought for Roe v. Wade believing it would end the horror of illegal abortions. It’s having witnessed our parents dying old or young, fulfilled or despairing, by grace or by their own hands. We raised children, stayed up with them as they moaned with the flu, split the air in two as they howled with an earache, waited up beyond curfew night after night and then watched them fly away and settle new lands. It’s enduring illness and having parts of our bodies cut away.  It’s a lifetime of caring for our friends, our family, our community. It’s outliving our best friend. It’s accepting how all these experiences have shaped and modified our sense of self. Age matters. How we age matters. Honoring all that made our worry lines, remembering the joys that etched our laugh lines, even finding loving mercy for our breasts that sag from nursing our young. Or for one breast. Or none. It all matters, and it’s up to us to make holy our aging with love and not shame.

I want a community to sing and chant me into elderhood. I want a hawk to perch on my shoulder, dragonflies to adorn my feet. I want to enter the natural world as part of the life cycle, maiden, mother and crone. I want to give the word crone a softer edge, a lovelier face, one tempered with grief and loss, patience, wisdom and unexpected delights. I want to comb out her hair and crown her with a wreath of sage, dress her in silk and satin. I want to look in her eyes and welcome the reflection of my original radiant face.

 

Nobody grows old merely by living a number of years. We grow old by deserting our ideals. Years may wrinkle the skin, but to give up enthusiasm wrinkles the soul”. Samuel Ullman

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Photo by Leo Cardelli on Pexels.com

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

16 thoughts on “age matters

  1. Nancy my dear,
    This brought tears and smiles and a lot of nodding. There is so much we can do as sisters to validate ourselves—our spirit—at all ages, and particularly old age. I’m right behind you and hoping you’ll continue to teach me. You are wise and wondrous—keep it coming please! Love you!

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  2. Nancy,
    Your posts always provide soul sustenance. This one especially at this time when eldering is so key to my awareness. Have you yet read Louise Aronson’s book, Elderhood (Redefining Aging, Transforming Medicine, Reimagining Life)? I post it here so that your many readers, and you, could benefit from Louise’s wisdam (she is a gerontologist) as we all benefit from yours.
    Many blessings,
    Suzanne

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  3. I’m about to turn 80. At one level, I can’t believe it; At another, my physical body reminds me on a daily basis that all is not what it has been. Then there are the friends and and family that no longer exist in this world. What happened?And why, unlike olden times, is there so little respect shown for having lived this long, accumulated lots of knowledge and remain curious about many things? One does not become the ‘village elder’, as in primitive society, one becomes ‘the town curmudgeon’. Ooops, I’ve said too much. I’d best retreat from my lofty peak and join the denizens below.

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    1. you are indeed the beloved town curmudgeon…carry on. and yes we lack the rituals in society to crown us with respect and acknowledge the wisdom we’ve gathered…so we honor each other, as I honor you. xoxoxoN

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  4. Dear friend, the waters run deep. Truth mirrored in every season, the spectrum of time we could only imagine. From this view it appears we are truly ageless, wise in spirit, young at heart, a rainbow reflection of the waves we ride.

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  5. I love how you’ve raised all the grief and fear and prejudice that comes with the territory of aging as a woman. I’m 10 years behind you but relate to everything already- and have been feeling this way for awhile. As a woman who never married, had children or shared her life with a partner, these feelings of slowly vanishing from the face of society are even more intense. I frankly despise the connotations and images of words like “elderhood”, “crone”, “mature”, “senior”. Why can’t we just be as we are and still be feminine, beautiful, relevant, desirable, valued and validated? Why must we defend our worth and appeal with words like “experienced”, “wise”, aging gracefully”. Haven’t we all even heard older women described as handsome?
    I am struggling Nancy, not with becoming 65- I know how lucky I am – but “the skin-crawling sense of shame” that you mention- it is so real. I want to shake it off and move forward feeling my authentic radiant self in an ageless way. I want to continue to shine. What a great piece this is- thank you.

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  6. A belated Happy Birthday, Nancy. I’m right behind you: I’ll turn 75 in January. So everything you say here really resonates. I find it interesting that most people consider this the highest compliment to offer us: “You don’t look 75!” We need to revise what 75 is supposed to look like, I guess! But aside from all of that, I must admit I enjoy being the matriarch of the family — my stepchildren, grandchildren, nieces and nephews are constantly asking me to fill in blanks, or tell certain stories over again, this time so their own children can hear them. That’s the true joy of aging, far as I’m concerned. Occasional stumbling and searching for the name of something you know so well (recently, for me it was petunia!) happens to all of us, so that’s just the way it goes. Just revel in the joy and love!

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    1. Hi Liz….quote from Doris Lessing: “There’s a big difference between telling a woman she’s beautiful and telling her she’s still beautiful.” I love hearing from and am sending you an email….xoxoNancy

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