It hasn’t been a good week on the aging gracefully front. First off, I think I have a bunion. I haven’t seen the doctor yet, but according to WebMD, that’s what the pain I’m having in my right foot could very well be.
Bunions were something my grandmother had. I remember noticing her feet at one point when I was nine or ten, she would have been about 70, her bunioned, calloused, hammer-toed feet, and thinking they were like appendages you’d see on aliens, bearing so little resemblance to my lovely innocent unscarred little girl feet as to be not in the same category.
Then when my mom got older, her feet went the way of her mother’s. Not pretty…some kind of grotesque it hurt me to look at. I never touched them, not even when she lay dying, when perhaps, another kind of daughter would have massaged them, rubbed them with fragrant lotions, to soothe her journey to the other side.
Yeah, not me.
To be fair, my mom and I never had a touchy kind of relationship. So my rubbing her feet would have probably made her as uncomfortable as the thought of it made me.
Then there was the moment this week when my husband Gary and I found ourselves having a discussion about hemorrhoids. About the best treatment options for them, if…you know… theoretically… one of us was possibly experiencing them in a painful way…the medicated wipes, the topical ointments. And suddenly Gary looked at me and said, “This isn’t the kind of thing I enjoy talking about. I’m more of a big ideas guy.”
And then, because life’s little slaps upside the head often seem to come in threes, I got a notice from my doctor this week, that’s it’s time to schedule another colonoscopy. Actually, Gary and I both got that notice because last time we opted for the “couple’s colonoscopy.” (This was not an option suggested by any medical professional…it was something we dreamed up all on our own, because we figured it would be more fun to do it together, kind of a variation on the spa resort “couple’s massage”…let me assure you the couple’s massage is way better.)
So yeah…there’s no denying it… I’m getting older. I’m aging… But the trick, I’ve heard – haven’t you heard this too—is to make sure you age gracefully. That is our hope…that if we age gracefully we won’t have a horrible, debilitating, lonely, pathetic and ugly old age.
Google “age gracefully” and you get over 3 and a half million hits. In 27 seconds. There are huge piles (hemorrhoid joke intended) of information out there about how to do it, and clearly a number of poster children for it…the Google images that pop up under “aging gracefully” are Susan Sarandon, Helen Mirren, Meryl Streep, George Clooney and Nicole Kidman.
There’s seems to be common element in these images that I notice right away… these are all people who have been incredibly attractive from the word go and have had the money to keep their beauty well-maintained through the years. So clearly, that might be one of the prerequisites for aging gracefully in our society…at least in terms of what most people mean by that term.
I’m thinking there’s no way I’m going to look like Susan Sarandon when I’m 67 (the age she is now), no matter how many miracle thigh creams I might buy, how much microdermabrasion I might invest in, or radical reconstructive plastic surgery I might opt for.
So it seems I’m pretty much screwed on the aging gracefully front. Especially as long as it’s defined in terms of looking slightly older, yet still elegant and beautiful.
And yes, that’s what grace means, at least in terms of the definitions at the top of the dictionary.com heap:
elegance or beauty of form, manner, motion, or action
a pleasing or attractive quality or endowment
There are other definitions of grace, however, not perhaps as popular and familiar…grace defined as getting something you don’t deserve. You didn’t earn. Receiving gifts, from others, from God, from the universe…you name it. Maybe even, miracle of all miracles, from yourself.
favor or goodwill.
a manifestation of favor, especially by a superior
mercy; clemency; pardon:
This non-beauty related definition of grace has synonyms like forgiveness, charity, kindness, and love attached to it. It’s got a unexpected, undeserved, wonderful whammy out of the blue quality about it. This kind of grace is like when you have overdue library books that you owe a lot of money in fines for…and when you finally drag yourself into the library, checkbook in hand, head hung low, the person behind the desk says, “It’s ok. There was a grace period. You don’t owe anything.” And you’re like, “Really?” And they’re like, “Yes, really.”
And you sort of feel like dancing a little jig, right there in the middle of the stacks.
What would it be like to grow old full of that kind of grace? I’ve got to wonder. To age with the sense that it’s not about owing something, having to earn something or do something to be loved and worthy…it’s simply about accepting the gifts all around me. With gratitude. It might also involve …well…forgiving people who disappoint me, including myself, practicing kindness and love, for others, and me, even in my current waddled neck, feet going wacko, sagging everything, overly hairy, not pencil thin state.
Here’s the truth. I think it might be easier to focus on the other kind of aging gracefully. At least it would keep me busy doing stuff, busy going for the look of the long gray haired older models they always seem to find for J. Crew and Gap ads. I’d have to try to lose weight, of course, as well as figure out the most effective ways to disguise the wrinkled as a plucked chicken body I’m developing, the overall splotchiness, all the stuff that jiggles, the quickly becoming alien-looking feet. That would keep me quite busy.
And I like to stay busy. Because I’m a doer. I’m a person who likes to be in charge, who doesn’t really like gifts (unless I’ve picked them out myself).
But maybe I can change. Sometimes I think I would like to.
Sometimes I even wish I could go back to my mother’s bedside and at least ask her if I could rub her feet. Not just because of the gift that could have been to her, but because of the gift it might have been to me. If I’d been open to it.
So for today at least, I’m going to say, Screw aging gracefully. I want to age with grace. I want to age playing grace notes and living in grace periods. Open to receiving grace, and giving it, discovering it in unexpected places, and at unexpected times. Ready for kindness and forgiveness and surprises. And instead of always working for merit badges, letting mercy seep in.
I don’t know if that’s possible. But somehow, I think it’s more possible than me ending up looking like Susan Sarandon.
And who knows. That kind of grace might look even better on me than perfect feet.