Wednesday, May 23, 2012

One for the Aged

My mother-in-law shared an interesting story with me once about aging that I never forgot. She was playing Scrabble with her sister one warm summer afternoon when she noticed a shadow appear on the board below. The shadow menaced her from the corner of her eye for much of the game until the final move when she stretched out her arm to slide her the piece on the board and realized, to her horror, that the shadow that was casting an ominous half-moon on the table below was not a shadow at all but the skin underneath her arm that had begun to sag and swing beneath her every time she moved it. So self-concious was she afterwards that, for the rest of the day, she kept her arms by her sides where she could keep a close eye on them and secretly wondered why - WHY! - nobody had bothered to point it out to her that they had gone "lunch lady" on her. We both laughed like hyena's when she told it. She, because it is genuinely a funny/horrible observation, and me, because, well, I was clueless. That was never gonna happen to me, right? Ah, youth.

I was reminded of this anecdote several times over the past few months as I have begun to experience the tell-tale signs of physical aging. (Insert eye-roll here.) I always aspired to be that person who grows old gracefully, who can see the arc of their life as a slowly winding river and not a head-first dive into Niagara Falls, but I am finding the process it to be both insult and assault. And my kvetching has been unending: Why can't I stay up long enough to watch Mad Men, dammit?! Was running always this hard?! My back hurts. My feet ache. How can I be drunk? I've only had one glass! It all came to a head after consulting with a beauty expert about why my once flawless skin was not bouncing back from this incredibly harsh winter weather. She haughtily informed me that, One needs to double the moisturizing at your age, dear. And, by the way, do you want to take a look at our new anti-aging line? Rather than waiting for the playful wink that surely accompanies such statements (which I'm sure would have come back as quickly as the elasticity in my skin), I chose instead to confer with a more reliable expert: my husband. Does my skin feel like sandpaper to you, I asked him, desperation on the edge of my voice? He thrust his arm at me by way of an answer. You should feel mine, he said. Go ahead, feel it. And so I did. Soft and smooth as a newborn's behind. What are you talking about? I screeched. It feels like silk! But it's thinner, he replied as he shook his head slowly back and forth with disappointment. Sooo much thinner.

There's no question: aging thins our skin, both literally and figuratively. But what I've found is that once you can get past the crepey neck and plantar fasciitis, mostly people find themselves admitting that they are remarkably happier now than they were when they were younger. Apparently, a Gallup poll of 340, 000 people showed unequivocally that we grow more contented age, that we become more comfortable in our skin regardless of its thin or sandpapery state and even report a marked decline in stress, anger and sadness.

Bring. It. ON.

In her remarkable new memoir, Lots of Candles, Plenty of Cake, writer Anna Quindlen makes the perfect case for her body having broken down and I'm gonna use it as my mantra. She, in her infinite wisdom, has decided to recognize her body for what is: a personality delivery system, "designed expressly to carry my character from place to place, now and in years to come. It's like a car, and while I like a red convertible, even a Bentley as well as the next person, what I really need are four tires and an engine." You can be sure that my personality delivery system will be easily recognizable. It will be the one dripping in moisturizer.

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