October 24, 2011
Betwixt and Between
Last week I wasn’t feeling well. Fatigued, emotional, thick in the middle, muddled. I tried to get rest, didn’t really help. I downed Emergen-C, talked to colleagues at work, and learned there was a stomach flu flying around, figured that was it. Wasn’t it, didn’t know what it could be.
I guest lectured at a friend’s university class and found myself sweaty and clammy. Not normally a sweater, I was horrified to see pit stains as I emerged from the class. I hoped my charming anecdotes and whimsical wisdom distracted them from the sweaty, hot mess before them.
Finally I came to the conclusion that my distress could be traced to one of three things: all hormonal. Either a) I was about to get my period; b) I was experiencing my first menopausal hot flash; or c) I was pregnant.
The fact that all three things could potentially be true made me, despite my woozy nausea, burst out laughing.
I am not yet old, but I am no longer young. This is apparent to me when I hang out with people such as my friend’s students – 20 year olds who are just starting out in whatever they are setting out to do. That feels a while ago to me. But the time passing on the earth and my experiences on it have not left me cynical or pessimistic either. Although I feel seriously challenged by the state of the world (please read former blogs) cynicism is not in my nature. Despair, sure. Feeling overwhelmed, of course. But then I find myself taking a deep breath, grabbing some faith from someone else, and diving back in again.
It’s more that in over four decades on the planet, a lot of stuff happens. To anyone. And the weight of those happenings make all the clichés about aging true – that you can’t imagine what’s it’s like until you’re there, that the preciousness of each breath becomes more pronounced. My mother is 85 years old and (I’m knocking wood now) doing quite well. But she’s 85. Her breath is precious.
My husband and I were talking about fertility treatments the other day – another poor friend going through it – and I turned with amazement. “Remember for FIVE YEARS that took over our life? And now it feels like a chapter in a novel.” Stuff like that.
So we are aging, that we know. Then it becomes a question, I guess, of how we choose to do it. I have dear friends getting face lifts and all power to them, but I walk very gingerly in that direction. I don’t want to look younger, exactly, or have the events of my life – the map that they’ve left on my face – erased, What I really want is to project the idea that the events of my life have left my face better than it was before. Better to me means wiser, wittier, wryer, more soulful, a little beat up, and softened like an old leather bag. If I knew a plastic surgeon that could do that, I’d run.
My 83 year old dad takes the position that if everyone looks at him as if he were a dotty old man, he’s going to take advantage of that and do whatever impulsive thing he feels like, and chalk it up to being dotty (which he is not. At all.) A few months ago he said to me, “Do you ever pretend to be a clerk in a store?” I literally didn’t know how to respond. “Uh, no, Dad. Do you?” He went on to tell an involved story about being at CVS and seeing a woman struggling to make a decision over what to buy, and he approached her saying, “Can I help you?” In a court of law (he is a lawyer, after all) he could say he didn’t exactly say he was a store clerk, but by hovering helpfully until she’d worked out her dilemma he certainly seemed like one. He was delighted by this experience and was going to try pretending to be other things. I, who have been paid to impersonate others for 25 years, was horrified.
My father is free. He’s always been impish, and now he lets his impy flag fly. That is the kind of aging that looks good to me. Outthinking the aging process – outthinking death? – doesn’t seem to have ever worked. Ask Faust.
But it remains true that women in their mid-forties are betwixt and between. People say “you’re not old!” but when you say your age they reply, “You look good for that!” Every year I pay $750 to the cryo-bank to keep my frozen embryos on ice just in case we want a third child. Which, we don’t. Neither of us. But letting those suckers go is my equivalent of getting my tubes tied, kissing fertility goodbye along with pudgy, yummy, stupid girlhood.
The truth is, I like where I am so much more. As I answered a Twitter follower who wanted to know “if it gets better after 23”, oh yes. Oh my yes. It gets so much better. You get more confident, less confused, more settled in the skin you’ve been born in. The only bittersweet caveat is that the wisdom comes as you’re moving closer to the end of your life.
Deep thoughts, nothing new. And for the record? I wasn’t pre-menstrual, peri-menopausal OR pregnant. I had an infection and the doc gave me some Cipro. So much for looking into the barrel of mortality. I always get morose when I’m sick.
And you? Words of wisdom for the ages?