I have been thinking a fair amount recently about the process of aging. I try to remember that everything is relative in life, though perhaps death is an exception to that rule? It seems to me that there are no degrees of death, simply degrees of living. Dying may be full of degrees and comparisons, but as for being dead, well, that seems pretty absolute.
Age, on the other hand, is extremely relative. I am sure that if I am still around at 55, and choose to look back on photographs of myself at 35, I will consider myself young. Right now, however, with 30 less than 11 months away, I feel that aging is happening all too fast. Last year, a few weeks after giving birth to my second son, I noticed my first grey hairs and wrinkles. There were only a few of each, and not obvious to the unobservant or incurious, but suddenly startlingly conspicuous to my own eyes. I knew, of course, that they hadn’t appeared overnight, and their existence was not what was new, but merely my perception of it. I remember my mother holding my elder son Tristan’s hand in hers on the day he was born, and suddenly seeing her own hand as ancient and scarred against the unmarked freshness of his newborn flesh, while I became aware of my own as very much in between the two.
It is irritating when we notice things and then wish we could un-notice them; I feel much the same when I suddenly realise that the skirting boards need dusting or the oven needs a thorough scrub – once I notice I feel compelled to do something about it, and wish I could go back to being happily unaware.
So, since I felt propelled into action, I decided it was time to ramp up my skincare regime and (after some consideration) dye my hair. There wasn’t a lot more I felt I could – or wanted to – actively do. I realise now of course that sometimes the best action is inaction, and it seems odd to me to realise that one way or another my mother’s death has helped me embrace my aging process (temporarily, at least). As a teenager, I remember her speaking to me of her love for a song by Michelle Shocked called ‘When I Grow Up’. The music video is a bit on the strange side, but the song is just as I remember it, with the catchy refrain ‘When I grow up I wanna be an old woman’, and the beautiful lines
‘In the summer we’ll sit in a field and watch the sun melt.
In the winter we’ll sit by a fire and watch the moon freeze.’
Tessa said what she loved about this song was the acceptance, and indeed embracing, of growing old. There is such a prejudice against it, particularly in Western culture where the wisdom and experience of the old are so often overlooked and belittled, while youth is idolised.
I have always admired the sentiment within her words, and hoped to one day follow her along the path to graceful and enjoyable aging. I feel that I have, in these past couple of months, finally begun to find the faint trail that marks the beginning of that path, and I know she has left many signs for me to follow.