I’m sitting at a table waiting for my friend to arrive for dinner. Across the aisle from me I spy a woman of about my age and her husband meeting another couple.
The woman is chirpy, she’s bubbly, she’s thin.
I hate her.
(I make a mental note: Never be chirpy, bubbly and thin—it’s unattractive.)
I look at her hair. It’s dyed the same color as mine and her lipstick is bright red.
(Another note: Wear pale lipstick—it’s a softer look for your age.)
That’s when I notice that all around me sit women (and men, but I don’t care about the men) of a certain age. Women with gray hair that looks slept in, women with gray hair that is practically shaved, women with dyed blond hair.
I think with dread, These are my peers.
When did it happen? When did I get so old that I too wear the clothes I’ve had in my closet for years and years but that I no longer care are out of fashion? When did I get so old that I too have a cane beside me to help me out of my chair?
The chirpy woman comes back into my view. She’s ordering a glass of white wine with a dash of soda water.
(Thank God I drink tequila.)
My denial is hitting me in the face and I don’t like what it’s forcing me to see. I don’t like that reality is breaking through my “I don’t look that old” pretense. “I don’t look that pickled, that held together, that sick, that—afraid.”
But wait. Maybe I do.
When I took my father to the final “rehab center/nursing home” he would be in before he died, he turned to me and practically begged me.
“Don’t leave me here, Melanie. I don’t belong here!”
While my heart was breaking, I wondered, where exactly did he belong? He was 80-something years old. His heart wasn’t working, his legs wouldn’t hold him up any more, and he was on oxygen 24/7.
“I’m not as old as these people,” he pleaded.
But yes. He was as old as “these people.” Probably older.
“We all carry around a picture inside of ourselves that doesn’t match what we really look like,” the Social Worker told me as I sat crying in her office, beset with guilt at abandoning my father to this place he didn’t belong.
As she spoke I glanced at the reflection of myself in the window behind her and thought, Do I carry around a picture inside of myself?
Does that picture match reality?
Back in the restaurant, my friend approached and, I have to admit, it took me a few minutes to get my head out of what I had been thinking about and into enjoying her arrival.
Better said, it took me a while to stop thinking, “Get me out of here. I’m not as old as these people.” To which my friend, had she known what I was thinking, could have rightly said, “Yes, you are as old as these people. Probably older.”
If we’re lucky, it comes. If we’re luckier still, we embrace it. We recognize its inevitability along with its decay and its desperation and its challenges to prepare for the next and final adventure. The one we will go on entirely alone.
“It is not easy for those of us who are old and coming closer and closer to the end of our lives to accept the inevitable. Some of us live in denial. Some of us are afraid. Some of us are angry. Some of us grieve for ourselves and for the people we will lose when we are dead. Some of us achieve a state of peace about death. Some of us never do.” ~ Michael Friedman
I looked around the restaurant at all of the people onto whom I was projecting my fear. I looked at the chirpy woman, I looked at the one with the slightly shaved head, I even looked at my friend and the cane she was using, and down deep inside myself I felt a desire, a yearning.
Instead of pushing them all away, I wanted to be able to reach out to them.
Then, just about the time the waiter brought dessert, something happened.
I looked around the room and saw a different reflection than I’d seen before.
Instead of strangers who weren’t like me, I saw friends. I saw my tribe on this part of life’s journey and people who understood what it was like.
It was then—when I saw their reality—that I was able to see the full reflection of myself.
Author: Carmelene Siani
Editor: Toby Israel