Somehow without my knowledge, Middle age has snuck up upon me. I came face to face with it when brushing my hair the other day and discovered, at the age of 37, my first white hair. Long, wiry and stubborn; it took a yank to remove it, thus shattering any illusion that it was a stray dog hair that had accidentally found its way onto my head. I held it ,staring in fascinated disgust and marvelling at how long it was, amazed at how I had failed to notice before? It was so shocking, that I showed it to my children and friends and even my Mother who all tutted with sympathetic disinterest, clearly not realising how completely in denial I have been ageing?
Of course I d have to be a blind idiot, to have not noticed the other tell-tale signs of my diminishing youth; the steady descent of my boobs towards my navel, the fine crease lines on my neck and chest and the laughter lines around my eyes, stretching like afternoon shadows on the High Coral towards my hairline. But what no one seems to have realised least of all me, is that I have not significantly changed emotionally or mentally from the exuberant 2o something I once was? Or have I?
My passport has expired and I when I dug it out to renew it, I peered at the ten year old photo looking into the eyes of my 27 year old self. I am fresh faced and scruffy in a charmingly disorganised way but it is my eyes that tell a different story, not my obviously youthful complexion. I hadn't had my daughter and was a mother to two little boys and a loving wife to an aspiring young doctor. I had no idea of what the next ten years would bring; the love, the laughter, my first and only daughter, the end of my marriage and the beginning of my journey as a single parent. I feel strangely sorry for my previous self and it its now that I realised how I have changed rather than simply aged?
I went to the 40th Birthday Party of a very dear friend and we wined and dined and especially danced, until the very early hours of the morning. It was dawn when I returned home in a taxi, exhausted, elated and carrying my shoes. I was longing for a cup of tea and worrying about the dogs being left alone for so long. The evening had been memorable, hilarious and poignant as all mile stone birthdays are, but particularly because this friend and I have travelled a similar journey for the past few years. The gathering of all her female friends from her whole life, in one place, to celebrate her birthday, was a heady mixture of ferocious pleasure at how far she had come and how strong women are, when they stand together with their female friends but also an aching reminder and nostalgia for how much is passed and laid to rest. "Do you feel 40?" I asked her as we whirled around the dance floor and she smiled wryly and said "No I feel about 18!" and therein lies the dichotomy. In my teens and twenties I could have danced til daybreak and then gone to work with a stiff coffee and a handful of paracetamol because I simply couldn't imagine a time when I would feel so exhausted, or that I would really look forward to a "quiet night in" browsing the Internet for sprinkler attachments for my hosepipe and a nice parasol for the terrace? Yet my where my mind thinks I m still 25 and immortal ,my heart and body conspire to contradict me. It took me a week to recover from hedonistic indulgence of the fabulous party and I was struck with a particularly nasty cold, as if to reiterate the point that I am, getting older.
But inside me there is a day spring of youthful excitement and wonder and exuberance which cannot be assimilated with what I see in the mirror? I have a postcard in the kitchen that reads
" Life cannot be measured by how many breaths we take... but by how many moments take our breath away". I thought for a while about things that excite or enthrall me and had to think quite hard,about what took my breath away, other than the Parents race at Sports Day? I felt sad when I realised that, the moments of euphoric excitement are indeed fewer than they once were? I wondered if exchanging the rose-tinted spectacles of Youth, for the trifocals of Experience in some way lessens our susceptibility to raw, powerful feelings of pleasure, joy, passion and the sheer thrill of being alive?
But then I realised that perhaps it was just likely that my now slightly jaded and cynical feelings about Love,Life and relationships and reality was what was stemming the flow of excitement in my life. I decided that the key was spontaneity. I watched a delightful and ridiculous film called the "Yes man" and was inspired to challenge my own cautious and pessimistic behaviour.
Thankfully I don't feel the need to sky dive or bungee jump but I decided that "going with the flow" and to hell with the consequences could liberate my pent-up inner 18 year old again.
It would be nice to get excited about something other than the Boden Sale catalogue arriving, after all!
My newly 40 year old friend has grabbed Life by the horns and hit the ground running, by relentlessly trying new things; festivals, rock concerts and travel sans Children! As much as I want to indulge myself I found that the thing that gives me the most pleasure now in my life, is seeing firsthand the happiness and excitement of those I love. This is not so much of an cop out as it sounds. There is something enormously liberating in being happy for someone else but not wanting anything for yourself? I decided then and there, that that, was the defining feature of my ageing process; I am not simply growing older, I am growing up.
"Yet, getting old is a natural process where things are slowing down, and you'll begin to see that the sparkle in your heart and the twinkle in your eyes make you beautiful in a way that's not achievable in youth. "