Two aging friends discuss what it means to not like the mirror
Melissa's been angry lately. I can relate. Both of us have been irritated about different things, but still, angry.
I've got some pretty deep books which discuss anger as a really negative energy. Society, which likes women to be nice, doesn't condone angry women even if we have damned good reason for it. Melissa, who has more Buddhas in her house than Buddha himself, experiences herself as kind, and calm, and above all, nice.
She is, until she's angry. I admit that this is rare for her, but when it does happen it's a red flag for something else. Always is.
She's not happy with the fact that the weight she lost a while back, for which she had new clothing and new colors to brighten her life, is back and then some. OH can we relate.
Melissa recently bought herself a gorgeous three-diamond pendant. She sent me a photo of her wearing it. Today she admitted that she was worried that, since I hadn't seen her since 2020, I would notice her double chin.
This woman whom I treasure, whose constant sage advice, shared laughter and regular phone calls these last three years have been a lifeline? This is what I would see? And worse, judge?
Oh, our aching humanness.
When I was thirty I wrote a poem:
God doesn't care if I gain or lose ten pounds
He only cares if my heart is heavy
Forty years later I'd say She but you get it.
I have had some moments recently wherein I've been staring at my face without mercy. The gray growing in at my temple isn't like Melissa's stark white hair, which is lovely. I feel judgmental. Oh what happened to my face?
I know what this stems from. The last two weeks I've been rummaging through and organizing endless photographs from twelve years of adventure travel. In some ways I just don't look like that any more, some fifteen pounds (thank you Covid and surgeries)-and years of hard effort in the elements-ago.
Melissa, being so willing to discuss and face such feelings with me, is my lifesaver.
This morning we were both laughing and poking fun at these things, for they are worthy of laughter, and our anger is worthy of discussion.
I'd recently read a few pieces from The Marginalian about anger. So I revisited one of them. Here is a quote:
“Our emotional life maps our incompleteness,” philosopher Martha Nussbaum wrote in her luminous letter of advice to the young. “A creature without any needs would never have reasons for fear, or grief, or hope, or anger.” Anger, indeed, is one of the emotions we judge most harshly — in others, as well as in ourselves — and yet understanding anger is central to mapping out the landscape of our interior lives. Aristotle, in planting the civilizational seed for practical wisdom, recognized this when he asked not whether anger is “good” or “bad” but how it shall be used: directed at whom, manifested how, for how long and to what end.
I posted Melissa's Susan Sontag piece and NancyL wrote this:
I have earned every.single.wrinkle and fought hard for every grey hair -if someone is foolish enough to discount me at this point, they can stand back and watch.
So true. AND. I did get a face lift when I was fifty, as my jowls were sagging and the grind that had been my life up to that point was painfully obvious. I did it; it made a huge difference to me at the time. I aim to be honest about that and anything else I did over the years to be something that I wanted to believe made me worthy of love and acceptance.
THAT last line, right?
Melissa and I were talking about a 79-yo friend of hers who just got another facelift, as did a friend of mine who had her second in her seventies. Melissa reported that the woman was disappointed. And then she asked me, if I were honestly considering another one, what on earth was I expecting? What was I hoping it would do?
Therein lies the question. Do we honestly believe that the financial investment in our external appearance is going to pay dividends in being loved more? Will WE love ourselves more if we look less tired or younger or whatever it is we think we should look like?
Those are important questions, for the fact that we even feel judgment towards our external appearance is driven by external forces which judge US for the crime of aging.
My friend who got the second facelift is, like me, in the speaking business. That's a very visual life, like being on-camera, and those who stay in it for years are more aware of how aging affects their financial viability. Like it or not, it's what they-and I, as someone returning to the field-have to juggle.
Melissa's feeling angry at her body for not staying slim. I have similar feelings about my body for various insults, while I also use those same stories to poke fun at how the anger we feel and the insults, as I call them, are part and parcel of the inevitability of getting older. Courage grows from being able to look at, laugh and and deal with such feelings, and acknowledge them as legitimate.
So after having had that discussion with Melissa, I went about the busy business of packing all my stuff for the drive to Coos Bay where I will next inhabit a yurt for three days. Then I sat down and opened up the latest Marginalian. The pop-up asked me this:
Could you use a soul-lift?
After I picked myself up off the floor from laughing too hard, I sent it to Melissa. She will also guffaw.
The true work here, I think, is being able to look at our anger, our judgment, and be willing to challenge it. Its source. To take stock in what comes from society, and what bubbles up from within, the basement demons which are part of evolving. Age-hate isn't new. The old woman has forever been a fearful figure in patriarchal societies, yet revered in matriarchal ones.
The questions, the judgment arise because of our society, the conditions we have collectively created. It exists to allow us to discover its source, question its validity, and learn. Ultimately, the question is whether or not we get the last laugh, by loving ourselves more than society ever will.
And that is soul-lifting indeed.
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