Fault Lines

Last week, a writer friend ‘fessed to our online group that this birthday, her 45th, had her feeling blue. She lamented landing smack in middle age in a culture that turns up its nose at gray hair, wrinkles, and sagging flesh. She felt old and unwanted, washed up.

 

Hey now. Hang on just a cotton-pickin’ minute. I’M turning 45 in less than a month. It hadn’t occurred to me to feel washed up and unwanted. I poised my fingers over the keyboard, ready to tap out a cheery response about how liberating the 40s are, how it’s up to us to reclaim our bodies and redefine what’s beautiful and sexy and blah blah blah. But I held off. She wasn’t in the mood for chipper. She needed a hug, some chocolate cake, a hot bath and a good cry. Forty-five is sort of the tipping point, isn’t it? Most of the big, fun, memorable stuff has happened. Your youth and beauty began to dim around the first season of Mad Men. Now the Big Slide begins. Forty-five is (at least) halfway to dead.

 

I dunno. I might have to get all chipper on your ass with a WOO HOO! I’m 45 and fabulous! Not that this decade started out bright and shiny. In the months leading up to my 40th birthday, it seemed my body was staging a coup against me. Surgery for a softball-sized tumor on an ovary (benign, TG), followed weeks later by my first pregnancy, followed months later by our first child loss. Additional surgeries in subsequent years, anemia, another pregnancy, another loss, depression, anxiety, and the most vexing to my vanity—the dual indignities of gray hair and acne—along with the most troubling to my heart—the pooch of a belly that has held children my arms never will.

 

But I kept my head down and kept going. Kept running up hills and folding into Downward Dog. I ate kale, I wore sunscreen. I’m cresting the hill and seeing 50 on the horizon. And I feel fine. Twenty-five years ago, you couldn’t have paid me to run half a mile. This morning, nine easy. Yes, okay, the right knee got a little gimpy on the downhills, not sure what’s up with that, but I felt joy. Pure, ageless, joy. It occurred to me as I read my friend’s words that I must have landed, at some point in these past five years—after a lifetime rueing my lumpy features and freckles, wishing I could find some way to part with my mother’s wide hips and her broad backside and add the height denied me by the family gene pool—on the make peace side of the physical me.

 

I live in the county with the state’s oldest median population and our city average is even older: approaching 60. I swim at the YMCA a couple of times a week and my lap lane partners smoke me. Men and women in their 60s, 70s, 80s, eating my lunch with their smooth strokes. The women’s aging bodies, on full display in the locker room with all their lumps and stretched out tattoos, their surgical scars, their scalps showing pink through their cotton-white hair, fill me with awe. They are so beautiful. They are so alive. They giggle and sing, they talk about their house renovations, grandkids, and trips to Vienna. When I grow up, I want to be just like them.

 

There’s a hollow place in me where all the terror of getting old and dying goes. The fear that cancer-m.s.-alzheimer’s-stroke-insert-irrational-health-scare-here lurks just a step into my future, or that I will end up homeless and alone, or that existentially, my life has little value—those Wide Awake at 3 a.m. Worries—(although, since I started ingesting a teaspoon of hops/valerian tincture before bed, my peri-menopausal night sweats are gone and I sleep soundly most nights, insomnia is rare. Seriously, women, this stuff is amazing) plague me.

 

But in the bright light of day, I feel beautiful and strong. Perversely, there’s a bit of pushback from the sisterhood—a sense that it’s one thing for a middle-aged woman to make peace with her flaws, but another entirely for her to be proud of her skin and the flesh underneath, or that somehow it’s an easier road for some (a woman informed me last year that my shape came from the fact I hadn’t given birth). It’s a reminder that this nebulous “society” we vitiate for not accepting us the way we are is, in fact, the very us we see in the mirror. 2014-07-31 12.14.38

 

Another friend celebrated a birthday this week, too—she’s just north of 50—and she articulated more of what’s in my heart as I approach this half-life age: a melancholy, not about a changing, aging body, but about those missed or messed up opportunities, the might-have-beens, the what-ifs, the if-onlys.

 

It is the making peace with the regrets that, along with eliminating processed foods, eschewing sugar, and pounding out the trail runs, I am counting on to ease me into the next half of this life with grace and dignity. It’s a daily struggle.

 

Letting go is the hardest workout of all.

 

 

 

 

“If you must look back, do so forgivingly. If you must look forward, do so prayerfully. However, the wisest thing you can do is be present in the present…gratefully.” -Maya Angelou

 

“The most solid advice for a writer is this, I think: Try to learn to breathe deeply, really to taste food when you eat, and when you sleep really to sleep. Try as much as possible to be wholly alive with all your might, and when you laugh, laugh like hell. And when you get angry, get good and angry. Try to be alive. You will be dead soon enough.” William Saroyan

 

 

 

 

 

25 thoughts on “Fault Lines

  1. I just love this post SO MUCH. I love how you write, but especially what you say.

    I am now 25 and too aware of the what-ifs and the if-onlys, scared to let them pass me by as if life were a highway and I were on the slow lane. I don’t know whether I want to get married, I don’t know whether I want children or if I can have them. I don’t know if my ideal job at my alma mater will work out even though I have been devoting 10 years of my life to get the credentials to at least try to get it. How do you manage all this? It seems to me that after 40 or 45 everything is easier, or at least it looks so from my 25 naïve eyes. Excuse this if it’s not true, but your post makes 45 look like the psychological state we should all wish for.

    I admire you for everything you went through and for sharing it. Loss is never easy, but you got through it and you are still living. And that makes me think that whatever life will give me, I’ll be OK 🙂

    Also, at 25 I already have some grey hairs, and puffy eyes sometimes. And I sould exercise, I really should. But these things will work themselves out, won’t they?

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    1. Elena, I LOVE these comments. You made my day. This is pure joy! In an odd way, I felt more together at 25 than I do now. My husband and I had a solid careers, grad school was behind me, I thought for certain I knew what the future would hold (stable home, kids, career advancement, PhD). I had no idea I had two career changes ahead of me, four houses bought and sold, a couple of country changes, 15 more house moves, and no kids. I’m exhausted just thinking about it! But I lived fully during those years and I loved my life in those moments. Yes, I have some regrets, but each of those missteps has served to push me forward to the place I find myself now.

      It truly is easier now. Maybe not for all women, but for this one. I’m more content with less and my capacity for compassion is greater. I still feel so young, such a work-in-progress. At 25, 45 seemed a lifetime away and I hardly gave it much thought. Now 25 seems like yesterday … Don’t worry about getting here. You will, and you will be beautiful, with 20 years of accomplishments and joys behind you. Be where you are and the rest will take care of itself. ❤

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  2. Wonderful read and a subject that resonates strongly. I’m turning 40 in 3 days time, and, my negative response to that approaching milestone has surprised me. However, it has also been a huge motivator and I am more determined and focused than ever on health, fitness, immediate family and writing goals. Thank you for sharing in your usual eloquent way, Julie.

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    1. Birthday wishes to you, Bianca. Blessing for peace, good health, and so much laughter. My Facebook post of this elicited many lovely comments that noted the need to be grateful for each day, for so many do not receive the gift of old age. I wish I were a big enough person to rise and shine every morning with this thought first and foremost, but I admit to my own weakness: sometimes facing my own mortality and that of loved ones just really, really hurts. I’m learning to acknowledge this and then just get on with things. As we all do.

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  3. Your post is so honest, intelligent and full of life’s possibilities…. meaningful sharing..
    We can all choose to live our daily lives in amazement… learning something new each day…
    womenlivinglifeafter50.com

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    1. Sue, that’s it- that’s the joy- knowing that there is still so much to learn, experience, so many beautiful people to meet and learn from. I’m so grateful for you and for your celebration of life!!

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  4. It’s me, I’m back. I just read this again and then read all the comments. You have really touched people here and I wonder if you would consider expanding this essay a bit and submitting it as creative non-fiction? Seriously, you have clearly struck a chord and I am sure it would be taken up by the right market.

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  5. Look at you, you ARE fabulous! You’re right, it is living with the “missed and messed up opportunities” that requires the most strength. This is a beautiful, moving essay. Your words give me strength. Bless you and keep running, keep writing.

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  6. I understand how your friends feel. I turned 60 last month, and I spent months trying to wrap my head around that number. Sixty is old (whispered the ten-year-old inside). Sixty isn’t fun (whispered the twenty-year-old inside). Sixty means you’ve lived more years than you have left (whispered the thirty-year-old inside). But in reality, sixty only means I need to enjoy every day I wake up and look forward with joy and anticipation, not back with sorrow and regrets. Living in the moment is difficult sometimes, but as time marches on (as evidenced by looking in the mirror!), I try to let those moments of regret and despair do nothing more than wash over me as I move toward whatever the future brings—because today really is all I have. I just hope I have a whole lot of “todays” in my future—I have a lot of improving still left to do!

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    1. Brendan and I had this very conversation this morning, as I once again fretted about the money we are spending for our trip to France, which has somehow gotten tangled up with my claustrophobic fear of flying. I’m hanging on to the knowledge that I cannot live in this kind of “tomorrow” fear, because I am so blessed to have today. Onward! Into the Moment!!

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  7. I’ve seen those older men and women doing laps at the Y. And you’re right, they are amazing. The human body is amazing, and not just when it’s young and sexy. Thank you for reminding me of that. Because of your writing, your life has tremendous value. Thank you for another thought-provoking post.

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  8. I really enjoyed this. Being in my 30’s, I’m starting to see and feel little reminders that I’m not getting any younger – strands of gray, arthritic hip, 9pm bedtime, etc. I honestly love being around women older than me. There is such an unapologetic air of confidence among women in their 40’s, 50’s and up. I always try to absorb as much of that as I can, and ignore the gray a little more. Great write, as always.

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    1. Dawn, thank you. I think I’m finally reaching that unapologetic stage- I know exactly what you mean- and it feels great. Those silver and white hairs are increasing in number and they mean something now – I finally feel like I’ve earned them! I feel so blessed to have landed in the community that is aging with such determination and vigor – it’s knocked some sense into me, for sure.

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  9. I guess never having been considered pretty I have nothing to lose in the looks departmet-seriously that is the least of my concerns about getting older! 🙂

    I have two fears about aging-losing the love of my life and losing my mind.

    I can deal with the rest-and trust me 45 is young! It,s after age 55 that you really feel the hands of time…relax ladies-you are in the prime of life!

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    1. Each woman brings her secret fears to the aging process-losing one’s “looks” can mean very different things and be felt in very different ways. I would never deny someone the sadness of inevitable changes and I hope we all come out the other side of the mourning process radiating a different kind of beauty- a confidence and peace that come from self-acceptance. For me, the most difficult change is accepting that I will never have children. That’s an internal loss and not visible from the outside, but it’s a loss of youth that is impossible to prevent.

      I’m sure a woman in her 60s would tell a woman in her 50s she’s in her prime! We can only each be in the moment we are experiencing and take from it what we can.

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      1. I certainly wasn’t dismissing anyone’s fears or feelings about aging. That was a bit of a joke about looks. I too struggle with seeing and knowing my body is slowly deteriorating but I push on and I do find it helpful to try and gain perspective on my own feelings by realizing they are universal and relative.
        It is amazing how we can look back at the way we saw things when we were say a teen and thought “will never be one of those old farts” to see how we evolve. So yes someday 45,or 56, will seem young and we will wonder why we had such angst. I spent a lot of time with my incredible MIL and whenever I said I was tired she would give me that look and say-“you don’t know tired until you are in your 90’s”. That always made me take stock and buck up! 🙂 But I would never deny the feelings or expereiences of anyone.

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  10. Julie, this post today really spoke to me. Only two years older than you, I try on a daily (hourly!) basis to make peace with this body of mine, one that has withstood illness, but it is oh so hard. (And I, too, have been given comments from others that because I haven’t had children “I am xyz.” Really burns me up, so you aren’t alone.) Lumpy hips, even more gray in my hair these days, not being able to lose those last five pounds, it’s all there. I continue to admire your positiveness!

    A close friend of ours passed away suddenly on Sunday; he had just turned 50 in February. So my thoughts on aging and death are even more pronounced as of late because of this tragedy. All I can hope for is that I live a good life. Because in the end, no one is going to remember my body type and that I missed a trip to the salon to get my hair highlighted.

    xx-Chris

    PS-Your tincture sounds amazing!!! 🙂

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    1. Chris, my heart aches to hear of your friend. Those secret terrors that hit me at 3 a.m. are also of losing Brendan–I can work myself into a panic
      thinking how vulnerable we are. And then I wonder, do I do enough? Am I living a good enough life? It feels like a luxurious worry when so many struggle with so little. So I settle on living the the life I have today and try to treat myself and the world around me with compassion and respect. xoxo I’m so glad you are here.

      And here’s that magic elixir. It has changed my life. Seriously.
      http://store.theherbalist.com/products/dream-sleep

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  11. You rock, beautiful woman! What an inspiring post. I never mind my birthdays, because I feel like I’m growing and learning more each year of my life. I wouldn’t ever want to go back to a previous time and relive it–to me, that feels like the butterfly wanting to return to the cocoon.

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    1. Miranda I’m so glad the struggles of earlier years are behind me and I agree- I would never want to go back. I love the image of a butterfly mourning its cocoon.
      I’m still pushing, resisting, scrabbling about, but slowly, oh so slowly, I’m beginning to accept that a quiet life is a not only good enough, it’s a gift.

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  12. I used to think it was so boring when people went on about growing old. I couldn’t see the problem. But in two months’ time I’m about to hit fifty and I am amazed by how shallow my response to this has been. I’m absolutely gutted. No point pretending otherwise. That’s how I feel. It’s not that I’m unhappy or unhealthy. I live a good life. I don’t have regrets. I haven’t even suffered any menopausal symptoms yet. I just hate the sense that I’m past my most ‘attractive.’ Sure I can still be attractive but, oh, those physical signs of aging in the mirror hurt. I don’t know if that says more about society or me. I’ll get over it. But I do really hate it right now.

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    1. Claudia, Yes. Yes. This despair and helplessness runs over me in waves at times. It doesn’t seem to matter that I have a loving partner who finds me beautiful and desirable. It’s knowing that I’m fading from the world’s second look that hurts. I don’t feel a direct hit from any external source, but I’ve certainly internalized some sort of self-worth from a beauty-driven culture.

      I think that’s why I’ve focused so much energy on my physical well-being. I’m determined to hang onto as much energy, strength, and force as I age by what I can control-what I eat and how I move. That’s the beauty I’ve discovered as I age- a strength of will that I didn’t have or need to have in younger days.

      Like

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