How to age w/o losing your mind (and dignity)

First, accept the obvious, everyone gets older and dies. I realized this at 29 when I was riding the subway in New York City, holding onto a pole, imagining my next literary triumph and also how much I was going to enjoy the slice of white pizza I was soon to eat in front of the TV set watching something stupid. I looked around the subway car filled with love and pity for my fellow passengers who may not have had so much to look forward to when I caught the eye of a woman, an older woman, back then I would say she was OLD but now I might call her older. We exchanged glances, me in my skinny, relatively unlined, childless and smooth-skinned glory, hair tumbling down my back, and all of a sudden I recognized I would die someday. Okay, I realize most people, especially people like me who had already experienced sudden deaths, would have figured this out. But I was eternally optomistic and sort of thought I might live forever like a vampire or Athena or Jack Lalanne.

Next, have some dignity. Once I attended a friend's high school reunion by mistake dressed like an aerobics instructor as he plucked me off the street outside my gym and insisted I masquerade as his sexy, much younger girlfriend at his Long island high school reunion at the Sheridan Hotel, a reunion where I was some fifteen years younger then the other attendees and dressed completely inappropriately. Some of the other women were openly hostile but a few of them were friendly and laughed when I explained why I was there wearing a sports bra, a ripped t-shirt and leggings. They were either married to cool guys or single. The women who were mean had made a huge effort to look younger and sexy, they had horrible husbands who grabbed my ass when we danced or leered or asked my fake boyfriend how much I charged. I decided I'd be one of those women who was kind to younger ones remembering my own hard times and accepting that smooth skin was not all that great when you were constantly marginalized and harassed. Also, those women seemed ageless, graceful and they were sexy because they liked themselves.

Third, understand, once you are past twenty-five, someone considers you old. Don't try and join the tribe of teenagers. You are not in their nation, it doesn't matter if you are able to speak with great wisdom about things like "Lolla" and "Pitchfork" and use the latest teen slang which is already defunct not to mention the fact that the mere utterance by you rendered it uncool. Embrace your dorkiness, dance in your seat while stuck in traffic, suggest to your teen or older child that they get a tattoo, but DON'T GET ONE YOURSELF!!!  If you are grocery shopping and "Dust in the Wind" comes on by all means sing it (using whatever words you remember) at the top of your lungs. Grab your kid or a stranger and sway back and forth. If you are at Trader Joes all those weirdos wearing Jimmy Buffet shirts will probably join you.

Fourth, when your college kid tells you they hope to stay in an all-inclusive resort for spring break resist the urge to tell him about your travels through Europe with a Eurorail pass and a rucksack, an army knife and a bottle of retsina. They will be appalled that you slept in Greek olive groves and on the train platform in Milan. they won't see the charm in your stories about those Milanese transvestites and the night you rode a motorcycle through Florence, your arms around a handsome stranger. They will scowl and repeat they plan to spend a week in a place with a swim-up bar and room service. You need to shut up. You are freaking them out.

Fifth, be grateful you're alive and doubly grateful to be healthy. By this time people have died, suddenly or not and you should have thought as the years passed about all the incredible things you've been allowed to do during the ensuing years. As you bite into a ripe peach, take your kid to college, dance badly with your spouse, wake up to the adoring stare of a hungry cat, ride your bike in the rain, write a perfect sentence or two, stop and consider how much you might have missed and thank your higher power for your life.

Sixth, recognize what old actually means. To  87 year olds, you are young. You are their adorable youngest child who once swam like a fish underwater, who told her mother every day how much she loved her, who has written novels and made them proud, who drank too much and scared them, who got sober and had a child and two divorces and is still struggling but will always be their baby. Don't forget anything but forgive it all. Drink lots of water, kiss your kids, your cats, your friends and any baby you are allowed near. Keep your sense of humor, eat your vegetables, try and learn something new on a daily basis and be kind to the young. Don't worry about what your face looks like. To someone you will always be breathtakingly beautiful. You will always be young.


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