Monday, October 19, 2009

New Experiences the Antidote to Aging

OK, ladies, what do we think about turning 50? If I had known what a milestone turning 50 was going to be, I would have paid it more attention. And now I’m turning 55. Is there no way to stop the passage of time?

Turning 20, 30 and 40 changed nothing for me. For women, turning 40 is supposed to launch you into old age. All those magazine articles about keeping your skin young-looking and staying “fit over 40.” Piece of cake. Thanks to both my parents’ genes, my skin was always on the oily side. A hassle to care for, yes, but it stayed smooth and supple. As for staying fit, I was already in a routine. I ran several miles a day and worked out with weights. Believe me, staying fit is much easier than getting fit.

Then, at 50, everything started to fall apart. From my vantage point five years later, it’s clear that turning 50 was a watershed experience. Literally. It’s when everything catches up with you. Not to mention menopause.

If, in your youthful 40s, you could get away with overindulging in a few extra calories now and then, forget about it. Now, you pay for each bite. If you could stay slender and strong by running or walking 30 minutes a day and doing a few reps with light weights, forget about it. Now it takes at least twice the work. If you could forgo the lotions and creams and still have silky smooth skin, forget about it. Now, lathering is always followed by slathering.

Even so, gravity and time have the final say. But there are advantages. There is something liberating about walking down the street and not being gawked at by males of all ages. "After a lifetime of living under the gaze, one day you realize that you are getting older and any beauty that you had or hoped for is fading,” writes Lilian Calles Barger in “Eve’s Revenge: Women and a Spirituality of the Body.” “Younger men no longer look at you. Older men are too busy gazing at younger women.”

Barger goes on to say that instead of feeling relieved, we feel invisible. We realize how our identity was tied up with “constantly being gazed at.” So now I grapple with that identity. Who am I? Who do I want to be?

I admire women who are comfortable enough with themselves to let their hair go gray. I was going to let it happen when my virgin hair grew in after the chemotherapy (another after-50 event). But when I actually saw it, I couldn’t do it.

My Grandma Still had fluffy white hair at my age. While I can’t imagine her lacing up a pair of hiking boots to hit a Catskills mountain trail with me, she was quite fit. She would get so mad if the bus was late that she just walked the two miles to Patchogue. Back then, women didn’t walk for fitness. But Grandma Still did not drive, so walking was often her only option.

Grandma Brown always looked old to me, too. She was petite, with short, permed hair. At my age, though, she had a convertible and a big boat. She’d pick me up in her car, top down, cruise to the bay, and hop on the boat to go clamming or crabbing.

Still, I can’t imagine my grandmothers rolling down the back hill with me, as I did with my granddaughters last week. I can still do all the things I could in my 20s. However, I pay for it afterwards with aches and pains.

Two years ago when picking a physical education class at Blue Ridge Community College, I signed up for the soccer team. I love soccer. Then I talked to the coach. He said the team mostly consisted of 19-year-old guys. Hmmm, should a 54-year-old woman be playing soccer with teenage boys? An injury would lay me up for months. Then how fit would I be? I switched to yoga.
Of course, aging is largely a state of mind. As Chili Davis said, “Growing old is mandatory; growing up is optional.” The key is to not be stuck in a rut, in your mind or behavior. You should always be ready for change, and to have fun. One man I know does not accept invitations to do anything on Saturday morning because that’s the day he takes his garbage to the dumpster.

Now that is old.

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