Facing off with my face, and the disappearing traces of youth
This past week I got my second Covid vaccine. I'd cancelled the next day's personal training session. Just as well, my arm hurt like a bastard and to boot, I had a medium-grade migraine all day. Given how little we know about any of the vaccines, I didn't think it particularly wise to mix the very potent migraine med with the Moderna. Suffice it to say, I lost all of Friday. I read, watched movies, weeded, stumbled around the steep incline of my yard, reveled in the brand new beauty of all the flowers that are being revealed.
Friday, when the temps rose to the seventies, as I am doing myself. That is, heading into the seventies. Unlike spring temperatures, though, my numbers aren't rolling back. Time, and age, are moving forward with that terrible inevitability that Nature intended. And with it, my face.
I don't know about anyone else's experience with lockdown, but for my part, even with packing, selling moving and setting up home in a brand new city and state, I had to notice my aging face. The stresses that such a huge move after fifty years in one state place on a body are considerable. Add to that devastating fires which damned near took me out, and succeeded in taking out much of the forest I moved here to love, the demands of staying inside and focusing internally have taken their toll.
To say the least, that I am now fully vaccinated, and that means that in a few weeks I can move around (still masked, thanks) and return to my beloved adventure travel, I am beyond grateful. That is rejunvenating, as renewing as the surprising appearances of Flowers I Didn't Know I Had on My New Property.
Just like noticing the Wrinkles I Didn't Know I Had on My Forehead.
To be fair, my reaction to the latter was somewhat less enthusiastic. The other day I caught my masked reflection in a mirror and was righteously shocked at all the wrinkles that I had above my nose. Were they always there?
Does it matter?
Is my aging face my enemy or my friend?
The extraordinary Ursula K. Le Giun wrote:
If you evade suffering you also evade the chance of joy. Pleasure you may get, or pleasures, but you will not be fulfilled. You will not know what it is to come home… Fulfillment… is a function of time. The search for pleasure is circular, repetitive, atemporal… It has an end. It comes to the end and has to start over. It is not a journey and return, but a closed cycle, a locked room, a cell… The thing about working with time, instead of against it, …is that it is not wasted. Even pain counts.
In this past year, so many of us suffered indeed, some more than others. I have friends who are on the edge of bankruptcy. Friends who lost friends, family, children. We have watched painful societal upheavals that touch, tear apart and knit together communities.
No wonder we feel older. Old, in fact. One year, and a lot of mileage.
Let me pause for a brief story.
About 9 am I noticed a wren sitting on my deck. It had clearly collided with my big picture window. I scooped it up gently, its addled brain barely able to acknowledge that some great huge thing had taken it from its spot. There are plenty of predators around here only too happy to take advantage of this creature's momentary disorientation. I've been there too many times myself.
I have a real bird's nest in my house. I nestled the wren in it. Walked away, tended to a phone call. About an hour later the bird's eyes were bright. With an eye towards freeing it, I reached for the nest. The bird promptly flew into my kitchen window. I tried once more, then let it be. It then disappeared somewhere in the house, the confining walls a holy terror to it. I opened my big screen door and the front door so that the creature could make its way outside when ready.
I have no idea where the bird went, if it got outside, its tiny terrified heart going a mile a minute. I know the house is a safe place. The bird doesn't. All I can do is leave the doors wide open and hope the bird finds the breezes to freedom, rest and a safe branch until its tiny brain recovers.
The body is like that, too, if we deem it, and its aging parts a holy terror to us. Our lives are so brief, so fleeting in geological terms. Barely a blip. We don't even register in Universal terms. We hardly understand how briefly our bodies exist, yet we expend untold energy moaning about what we cannot hold: our youth.
Once freed of this body, this aging skin suit, who knows what breezes will carry me off to? Who knows what adventures await?
My face is aging. For crying out loud, I'm nearly seventy. For the last ten years plus I've hurled my body off bridges, leapt out of airplanes, kayaked and rafted and ridden horses all over the world. The harder I've worked my body, the more I've used and aged my face. It is precisely this crime of an aging face that I am coming to grips with.
To that, I read this piece the other morning:
From that article:
You’re looking at f***ing determination and truth and creativity. You’re looking at loss and sorrow and the effort for a deeper perspective. You’re looking at satisfaction and happiness. You’re looking at a manifestation of a connection so deep and rooted that it’s more real than I am. You’re looking at my face.
–Justine Bateman, #TheresNothingWrongWithYourFace
I loved this. For my part, when I choose to look through that lens as opposed to the OMG LOOK AT WHAT HAPPENED TO MY FACE lens, I have a deep appreciation for the journey my disposable, transitory body has taken me on. We are hardly done. I have decades more, should I be careful and respectful enough to earn them.
If I am fortunate, Mother Nature will carve many more stories onto my aging face, speaking of adventures and elephants and horses and forests, deserts and oceans the world over. Love and laughter and loss and living. As it should be.
I would not have that face marred by the kind of wrinkles that self-hate produces. I've carved more laugh lines into my face these last ten years than all the years prior.
I can't imagine removing proof of joy.
Proof of youth resides in my eyes. My energy level. My ability to laugh long and hard, most particularly at my aging self. Proof of youth is in the pleasure with which I greet each day, made far sweeter by the knowledge, emphasized by inching closer to death, that I am so very fortunate to wake up at all.
Some of those realizations only come with age, wrinkles, and experience. Those of us chasing the chimera of lost youth move through life facing backwards, mourning we have lost, rather than braving the winds and tumult and promises of future joy by facing forward.
I am going to face forward. And in doing so my face, my friend, my message to the mirror and the world, will speak to it of my journey.