Hey there, it’s Halloween! Pumpkins and skeletons and spider webs on the stoop. Candy bars and Smarties in a big bowl. Tricks and treats and pranks. Little kids greet this day with anticipation, much laughter, and a genuine sense of celebration. I enjoy answering the door to see their carefully constructed costumes, especially those that are homemade–though I don’t appreciate the toilet paper strung from my trees or my car covered with eggs by gleeful teenagers having a laugh riot.
In the past, I never laughed about such high jinx, and even now T.P. in my evergreens seems an enormous pain in the butt–and ugly to boot–as you can’t take trees to the carwash. But, apart from antics like these, I think I have begun to laugh more as life goes on. I used to see a lot of things in a serious light, but now I try to keep in mind George Bernard Shaw’s remark: “You don’t stop laughing when you grow old, you grow old when you stop laughing.” A quip such as this helps to beat back depression when you are feeling a little more than blue and also makes me think about the ways in which I am aging.
Am I laughing enough so that I can say I am not officially “old?” I turned sixty-five this past year, which is a real milestone; forget those that come at twenty-one or thirty or even fifty. Nothing compares to sixty-five. I’m now officially designated a “senior citizen,” with all the perks of Early Bird Specials at local restaurants, reduced ticket prices at the movies and on Amtrak, the specials offered by the AARP, and the numerous advantages of Medicare (if you can call a rule-bound, government-sponsored subsidy an advantage). All of this could make me feel “old,” but I’m not sure it does, despite the fear with which I previously approached the mid-point of my sixties.
When I had a new photo taken for my website, the camera reflected the net of wrinkles by the sides of my eyes and at the top of my cheeks when I smiled. Upon seeing the proofs, my husband remarked: “I’m glad you’re not going to have this airbrushed–though I am surprised.”
I told him that I don’t mind the way my face looks now. Which is a bit of a small lie, as I do dislike the general deterioration of my physical being, though I no longer care about not being thirty or forty or even fifty–times at which my body was firmer and smoother, but during which I was not nearly as comfortable in my own skin as I am today.
No, I wouldn’t trade away my years, not even for a more youthful photo, and I wouldn’t dream of using one taken at a more youthful time now, as some people do when advertising their public persona. I resist having fills or plastic surgery, even as some friends around me succumb to the temptation. I shrug: their choice, not mine, and I make no judgments about it. It’s just not for me.
For the past twenty-five years in California, I had a trainer at the gym, where I worked assiduously to combat that sloppy roll which develops around most of our waistlines as we age; my sister nicknamed the downward direction of that roll “melted wax syndrome.” Her pithy observation always sends me off into howls of laughter. When I turned fifty, my trainer asked me, “how do you feel now that you are in the sunset of your years?”
I protested, quite indignantly, that the sunset of my years wouldn’t begin until I was at least seventy. He was forty, and remained unconvinced. At that time I didn’t think his remark was funny, but now–ever closer to my self-defined mark of seventy–I do, and I repeat it often to other people, with soul-cleansing laughter. Who cares if it’s the sunset? Sunsets are spectacular, and I intend mine to be so.
Helen Mirren is one of my heroines. In addition to being a consummate actress, she’s let her hair silver naturally, isn’t afraid of camera close-ups, and stands tall within her seventy-three years. Judi Dench is equally admirable at eighty-three. Nothing has stopped these two women from continuing their amazingly successful careers–and even Hollywood has begun to write leading roles for women who are closer to the end of their life than the beginning. These two women embrace their years lived and do so in a way that is not a surrender; it’s an acceptance made with grace, and one that is beautiful to witness.
The old adage is so true: time moves as fast as the quiver of an eyelash. Having just hit the first anniversary of my move to Maryland, I once again find myself surprised that another year has passed. So I enroll in Medicare, appreciate the reduced ticket price at the movies, and am happy to take the deal on Amtrak when I am going to visit my grandson–where I revel in the fact that he is growing up even as I am growing older. I’m learning to laugh all over again, despite my sixty-five years; I no longer let my age define me. And I say “amen” to that.