You may have noticed from some sloppy posts in the past few weeks that it has been a stretch to keep up this blog while attending to all the selling/buying/moving details in preparation for leaving New York City to live in Portland, Maine. So I am grateful when I come across something excellent I can post without the usual effort.
The following story is one of those. It speaks eloquently to everything Time Goes By - what it’s really like to get older is all about and I’m deeply envious I didn’t write it.
It was emailed to me by kenju at JustAskJudy who got it from a friend of hers. It is untitled, but attributed to novelist and Salon columnist Anne LaMott as published in O, The Oprah Magazine, but I can’t confirm that.
Wherever it came from, it should be read by everyone who fears getting old.
I was at a wedding Saturday with a lot of women in their 20s and 30s in sexy dresses, their youthful skin aglow. And even though I was 30 or 40 years older, a little worse for wear, a little tired and overwhelmed by the loud music, I was smiling. I smiled with a secret Cheshire-cat smile of pleasure and relief in being older. I would not give back a year of life lived.
Age has given me what I was looking for my entire life - it gave me me. It provided the time and experience and failures and triumphs and friends who helped me step into the shape that had been waiting for me all my life.
I fit into me now - mostly. I have an organic life finally, not the one people imagined for me or tried to get me to have or the life someone else might celebrate as a successful one - I have the life I dreamed of.
I have become the woman I hardly dared imagine I could be. There are parts I don't love - until a few years ago, I had no idea that you could get cellulite on your stomach - but I not only get along with me most of the time now, I am militantly and maternally on my own side.
Left to my own devices, would I trade this for firm thighs, fewer wrinkles, a better memory? On some days. That's why it's such a blessing. I'm not left to my own devices. Because the truth is I have amazing friends to whom I can turn.
I've learned to pay attention to life, and to listen. I'd give up all this for a flatter belly? Are you crazy? I still have terrible moments when I despair about my body. But they are just moments - I used to have years when I believed I would be more beautiful if I jiggled less, if all parts of my body stopped moving when I did. But I believe two things now that I didn't at 30. When we get to heaven, we will discover that the appearance of our butts and skin was 127th on the list of what mattered on this earth.
And I know the truth that l am not going to live forever, and this has set me free. Eleven years ago, when my friend Pammy was dying at the age of 37 we went shopping at Macy's. She was in a wheelchair, with a wig and three weeks to live. I tried on a short dress and came out to model it for Pammy. I asked if she thought it made me look big in the thighs, and she said, so kindly, "Annie? You just don't have that kind of time." I live by this story.
I am thrilled-ish for every gray hair and achy muscle, because of all the friends who didn't make it, who died too young of AIDS and breast cancer. And much of the stuff I used to worry about has subsided -what other people think of me and how l am living my life. I give these things the big shrug. Mostly. Or at least eventually. It's a huge relief.
I became more successful in my mid-40s, but this pales compared to the other gifts of this decade - how kind to myself I have become, what a wonderful, tender wife I am to myself, what a loving companion. I get myself tubs of hot salty water at the end of the day in which to soak my tired feet. I run interference for myself when I am working, like the wife of a great artist would: "No, I'm sorry, she can't come. She's working hard these days and needs a lot of downtime." I live by the truth that "No" is a complete sentence.
I rest as a spiritual act.
I have grown up enough to develop radical acceptance. I insist on the right to swim in warm water at every opportunity, no matter how cold, no matter how young and gorgeous the other people on the beach are. I don't think that if I live to be 80 I'll wish I'd spent more hours in the gym or kept my house a lot cleaner. I think I'm going to wish I had swum more unashamedly, made more mistakes, spaced out more, rested.
On the day I die, I want to have had dessert. So this informs how l live now.
I have survived so much loss, as all of us have by now - my parents, dear friends, my pets. Rubble is the ground on which our deepest friendships are built. If you haven't already, you will lose someone you can't live without, and your heart will be badly broken; and the bad news is that you never completely get over the loss of a beloved person.
But this is also the good news. They live forever, in your broken heart that doesn't seal back up. And you come through. It's like having a leg that never heals perfectly - that still hurts when the weather is cold - but you learn to dance with the limp. You dance to the absurdities of life; you dance to the minuet of old friendships. I danced alone for a couple of years, and came to believe I might not ever have a passionate romantic relationship - might end up alone! I'd been so terrified of this my whole life.
But I'd rather never be in a couple or never get laid again than to be in a toxic relationship. I spent a few years celibate. It was lovely, and it was sometimes lonely. I had surrendered; I'd run out of bullets. But I learned to be the person I wished I'd meet - at which point I found a kind, artistic, handsome man. We have been together 20 months now. When we get
out of bed, we hold our lower backs, like Walter Brennan, and we smile.
Younger women worry that their memories will begin to go. And you know what? They will. Menopause has not increased my focus and retention as much as I I'd been hoping. But a lot is better off missed. A lot is better not gotten around to. I know many of the women at the wedding fear getting older, and I wish I could gather them together again and give them my word of honor that every one of my friends loves being older, loves being in her 50s, 60s, 70s. My Aunt Gertrude is 85 and leaves us behind in the dust when we hike.
Look, my feet hurt some mornings, and my body is less forgiving when I exercise more than I'm used to. But I love my life more, and me more. I'm so much juicier. And, like that old saying goes, it's not that I think less of myself, but that I think of myself less often. And that feels like heaven to me.