Note to self: Yes, put some effort into looking as good as you can as you age, and by all means stay as healthy as possible, but please, PLEASE do not focus too much on the superficial or cling too desperately to your appearance or even to your life itself.
I am in NYC for 2 days, spending a little time with my daughter. We have had some great talks. One topic we really examined – making big life changes that always involve giving something up.
If a change is in the interests of greater personal peace and fulfillment, there will be more to gain than to lose, but it is still natural to wish we could cherry pick the past and choose what we save from it.
A healthy attitude about aging is like this too. We have all heard the saying, “If I could only combine my current wisdom (at 40 or 50 or 60 or . . . ) with the body I had when I was 20, . . . .” But that just can’t be. We have the opportunity to deepen our understanding of the world and other people as we continue to live, but a little of our youthful looks and vitality are inevitable losses along the way. There is no avoiding that!
As each year clicks on by (at an increasingly quick pace – how does that happen?) I am realizing more and more that part of aging graciously and peacefully requires more letting go than holding on. I do not mean to say, “Just let yourself go. Your body will get old and fall apart anyway, so why bother with the discipline of practicing healthy habits.” I mean that all the worry and focus in the world will not keep human bodies from . . . well, to be precise, shriveling up and eventually dying.
Back to my NYC experience. I have been noticing a phenomenon in a well-to-do neighborhood here. A fair number of older – even elderly – women in high-end casual clothing and gym shoes who are very, VERY skinny. In Milwaukee, if I see an elderly woman who looks like that, she is usually pushing a walker or sitting in a wheelchair, because her legs are too frail to support her.
There is something freakish-looking about an anorexic woman in her 60’s or 70’s. The pieces just don’t go together. Lots of expensive jewelry and a face without wrinkles are shocking contrasts to a leathery wrinkled body with no visible muscle.
At that age, healthy goals would lead a woman to hold onto muscle tissue for dear life. Ironically, loss of too much weight this late in life makes a person look older and feel more frail. I couldn’t help but wonder how much life – real living – these women are missing as they abuse themselves, trying to resist something as organic as aging.
I also saw the opposite: aging done well. A group of 4 elderly women with plenty of laugh lines sharing coffee and some stories as I paid for my lunch at a local deli. They looked engaged with each other . . . and with LIFE. That’s what I want for myself as I log the miles and years of my life.