Earlier today I had a conversation that made me uneasy...
I'm a telephone volunteer for the elderly and this morning, one of my regular companions couldn't remember who I was.
Granted, he's in his 90's and has Alzheimer's (and hence a tendency to forget things from time to time) but he's never completely forgotten me before.☹️
As I tried to remind him about our weekly chats, I could hear him floundering, struggling to recall who I was.
It's heartbreaking to hear your friend, who has so many interests and is still so full of dreams, deteriorate in both mind and body.
I know that his level of memory loss is not a part of the natural ageing process but nevertheless, our conversation led me to think about ageing and to confront my fears about getting older.
When I thought about ageing, The Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde immediately came to mind.
I didn't enjoy reading this book and gave up on it about halfway through. I found it distasteful and littered with offensive messages about ageing.
Youth is the one thing worth having… Someday, when you are old and wrinkled and ugly, when thought has seared your forehead with its lines, and passion branded your lips with its hideous fires, you will feel it, you will feel it terribly.
This sentiment highlights the toxic programming of society and its overinflated value on youth.
As I age, I can feel myself growing wiser and shedding my immature ways of thinking and interacting with the world. Time has had a refining influence on my attitude and I'm sooo grateful for that.☀️
My feelings about the effects that time is having on my body however are mixed.
On one hand, I'm conscious that with every passing day my body, that's currently in youthful bloom, is also wilting 🌹
Western Civilization prizes youth, particularly female, to a startling degree. We are subject to pervasive conditioning that portrays young femininity as the epitome of beauty, perfection and inspiration.
This perception is corrosive to the female psyche on multiple levels. It creates a huge expectation for young women to fulfil their spiritual destiny before they even know what it is, and feel enormous pressure to become something before they have the tools to even attempt the becoming.
I try to develop other qualities that are more enduring than my outward appearance and to foster the 'beauty of mind', as described in My Brilliant Friend by Elena Ferrante.
The book follows the lives of Lila (Cerullo) and Elena (Greco) growing up in a volatile and impoverished neighbourhood in Naples. In primary school, Elena worked extremely hard while Lila was naturally gifted; effortlessly teaching herself how to read and write, earning the highest grades and rising to the top of the class. Unfortunately, Lila's parents refused to pay for further education and she had to drop out of school.
Elena went on pursuing higher education while Lila grew up to be very beautiful, attracting many suitors in the neighbourhood and her gifted mind seemed to be wasted. Their primary school teacher lamented:
The beauty of mind that Cerullo had from childhood didn't find an outlet, Greco, and it has all ended up in her face, her breasts, in her thighs, in her ass, places where it soon fades and it will be as if she never had it.
I admire my youthful freshness but temper the admiration by remembering that it's fleeting. In The Wild Woman's Way, Michaela Boehm explains:
At some point, the looks will go and what's left depends on how much the woman has engaged their inner life; confidence, substance, experience and an inner radiance that comes from a life well lived and a heart well given.