I am at a funny point in life. One of those odd, serendipitous moments that seem to follow me.
Tomorrow Paul and I will head to Florida to visit two of our very best friends. The kind of people who you trust implicitly. The kind of friends who, on the eve of your visit, when your husband hasn’t really started to pack, you think to yourself, “It’s OK. Dave will have something that fits him…..”
As we plan our trip, the first vacation we have had together since the summer of 2019, I find myself obsessing over how I look.
I turned 66 this week.
I have jowls. Actual JOWLS. I am gray, I am pale, I do not look like anyone’s version of a woman who should be walking the beach.
Or am I?
As I contemplate my aging self, I take stock of the multiple leg bruises caused by my dogs, my blood clotting issues, my awkwardness. I look at my doughy middle. And my sagging “ladies”.
Why do I feel shame?
I used to be young, pretty, smooth, fresh.
But then I lived my life. I had three kids. I aged, as does every human who is lucky and blessed.
This morning, at about 3 AM, I woke up thinking about the arm that I injured yesterday while trying to clean out the house where my parents lived for 60 years. Yesterday I gently, lovingly wrapped dozens of pieces of glassware to be donated. I carefully sorted through the kitchen drawers, wrapped in memories of dinners past, and placed each spatula, each knife, in a box for someone to take away.
As I thought back on the day, I reached out to find my ice pack, wrapping it around my forearm. I remembered the moment when I had been pulling down my Dad’s old gardening tools to toss into the dumpster. An ancient string trimmer had become rusted to the rack my Dad had built to hold it. As I pulled, it fell down with a crash, catching my arm as it did.
I barely noticed the damage at the time. But when I got home, I saw the swelling, the broken blood vessel, the emerging black and blue.
Do you know what I thought at that moment?
I didn’t worry about my health. I didn’t worry about the fact that it actually hurt like a toothache. No. Instead what flew through my head was this, “But I’m going to Florida! I don’t want to have an ugly bruise on my arm!”
Not painful. Not aching. Just ugly. That was my fear.
As I drifted back to sleep last night, ice pack wrapped around my bruise, I suddenly remembered a woman I saw in Germany a few years ago.
Our German hosts had taken us to the gorgeous island of Sylt, way up on the North Sea. We went to the beach, of course, and it was absolutely breathtaking. I wanted to swim, but there were no dressing rooms, and our young German friends informed us that if we wanted to put on a bathing suit, we should just do it on the beach.
I didn’t. I felt fat. And old. And silly.
I was experiencing my one and only time to visit the North Sea, but what I was thinking about was my flabby thighs. I was far too embarrassed to change my clothes on a mostly empty beach in front of people I would never see again…..
So I waded into the water, but only up to my knees. Where my shorts began.
As we walked along the gorgeous, wild, impossibly amazing shoreline, we saw other people enjoying the day. One was a woman that I cannot forget. I so wish that I could talk to her tonight, before I head South to put my full old lady on display.
This woman was lying on her stomach on one of the many beach lounges that line that stretch of shore. As we passed, I realized that she was both completely nude and completely at ease. I kept a view of her out of the corner of my eye, as I strolled through the very edges of the waves in my shorts and t-shirt.
After a few minutes, the woman arose from her lounge. She stretched for a minute, then ran her hands through her hair. Slowly, with great grace and an obvious sense of pleasure, she walked across the sand and into the pounding surf. She raised both arms above her head and dove into an incoming wave.
I watched her for five or so minutes as she endured in that very cold water. Then I watched her elegantly and nonchalantly walk back to her lounge, where she lay back down in the August sun.
I think of her often. I am thinking of her tonight.
I wish that I could talk to her.
I would say, “Thank you for the model you have shown me.”
I would ask, “How is it that you are so comfortable with your old body? You have short gray hair, like me. You have round hips and a belly, like me. How do you dare to walk in public showing your every flaw?”
Of course, I could never really say any of this, but I do imagine how she might answer. I think that she might say, in complete seriousness, “This is what a grandmother looks like. I have gray hair because I have been lucky enough to have lived for several decades. I have wrinkles because I have laughed and cried as the situation has demanded.”
I think of her looking at her sagging breasts and belly, and imagine her saying, “I gave birth to my children! I fed them. I cooked for them. I worked hard.”
I imagine her telling me, “This is the body of a woman who has lived. Be grateful that you were able to achieve this.”
And then I try, very hard, to imagine myself telling her, “You’re right! My bruises and bumps and wrinkles are nothing to be ashamed of!”
I imagine this very hard.