Tonight, I was listening to the news–specifically to a report on Rosie O’Donnell’s heart attack scare. I don’t want to make light of the subject, because having a heart attack–especially an initially unacknowledged one–is not funny in the least. But something struck me in the news report I was listening to, which is also alluded to in the article linked to above. The woman on the news, who was describing an experience similar to O’Donnell’s, said this (paraphrased), “I thought, wait…there’s been a mistake!” She thought this because she was certain she could not possibly be having a heart attack. As Rosie said, in the article, sometimes [women] are “queens of denial.”
I can relate to that, and I would add the phrase “of a certain age” behind the word “women.” I know that I have reached an age where I am often in denial about the most undeniable of facts, and I find myself saying to myself (hopefully not out loud), “Wait. There’s been a mistake!”
Most recently, this happened when someone posted a photograph of me from ten years ago on Facebook. The thing is that until you see a photograph of yourself ten years younger plastered up against a profile photograph that is a mere three months old, you can so easily (and willingly!) convince yourself that you haven’t changed all that much in the last decade–that you’ve aged well! You look the same! Of course you do! At least that’s what your magic mirror on the wall tells you in the absence of proof that has been documented for you and the world to see in that wonderful venue we call social media. Wait! There’s been a mistake! I haven’t changed that much…have I? Did I really look like that not so long ago?
This phenomenon has also happened to me in the doctor’s office. As I smugly waited for the nurse to take my blood pressure, certain as always that it would register low or near perfect, I was astounded to hear these words: “Ummm…your blood pressure is fairly high today, are you anxious? Nervous?” Well, actually, no, I am not, thank you very much. And yet my blood pressure is high–high enough to warrant a trial of medication, even though it is technically borderline. Wait. There’s been a mistake! I am not possibly old enough to have high blood pressure! My grandparents had high blood pressure. And they were old, not me.
And let’s not forget the delusional power of living in a past mindset. Do I want another glass of wine (at 10:00 p.m.) followed by a coffee when I am having fun at my monthly book group communal? Of course I do! Why not? Oh, what’s that you say? I may be up for hours with a pounding head and a pounding heart and unable to sleep until 5 a.m.? Wait. There’s been a mistake! That would mean that I am not as young as I used to be. Come on now…
Growing older is a privilege, and yet–let’s face it–it’s a bitch, too. At 51, I do not consider myself old. I consider myself lucky to have my health and my family and my life and lots of living to do in the years ahead. And yet, I cannot deny that there are changes within me that are the direct result of age. Unless we are all Don Ameche in Cocoon (Yes! Even that reference dates me!) with a fountain of youth at our disposal, then there will most certainly be unavoidable transitions that we must face between youth and old age. The in-between is perhaps the most disconcerting. We don’t know if we’re young enough to reject old age or old enough to know better.
I still firmly believe that age is simply a vantage point–no more, no less. No one should let a number define them. I reject that notion every day as there is still much I want to accomplish. And I know people who inspire me at every age. Age doesn’t matter until you feel it or see it or have to face it for one compelling reason or another.
And even then, it’s not something that should paralyze you with fear. Because your age is not only a vantage point, it is simply proof that you have earned the right to be discriminating–observing life from a plateau higher than that of those climbing the unwavering ladder of years behind you.
Am I aging gracefully? I don’t know. Most days, I don’t care. I am aging. That in of itself is a reason to rejoice. I don’t intend to waste one moment worrying about it, but I know I will, being human and all. But at those times, I simply tell myself…Wait. There’s been a mistake! I’m not getting older. I’m simply transitioning to a new vantage point.
And who knows what’s to be seen from there? I don’t. Because I haven’t yet had the chance. I can’t wait to find out. If it’s good, all the better. If it’s not, at least I’ve been allowed to see for myself. Either way, there is no mistake–it is better to be grateful for the opportunity than to resent the unavoidable.
Aging is not a mistake. It is one of the factors that unites all of us. We all move up the ladder.
Not all of us make it to the top. The closer we get, the luckier we are. Make no mistake about that.