Aging Gracefully, An Oxymoron

The following contains explicit material and may be unsuitable for children and adults having a low tolerance for distasteful mental images. Every year – for too many of them – I have designed a set of New Year’s Resolutions, ostensibly to improve my general health and well-being, actually to apply some damage control to an overdose of holiday chocolate. And every year it seems that the harder I work for physical improvement, the harder I struggle to stay even.

The other day, in keeping with the exercise part of this year’s resolutions, I was doing a shoulder stand in my underwear –I was home alone– and happened to look up. To my horror, my entire body seemed to be hanging from my ankles in a great wrinkling wave of skin and cellulite that started at my knees and rippled downward to gather in gentle folds around my collarbone. I sprang up with an agility born of fright and ran for the nearest full-length mirror to make sure it hadn’t all now landed in a heap at my feet.

How can this be happening? I know that after thirty, it’s all maintenance. I know it and have been cheerfully pointing it out to new thirty-year-olds for the last twenty years. I am painfully aware that the eyebrows go and the jowls and the bowels and the upper arms soon follow. I realize that each and every body part will soon have its own physician and its own personal trainer, but up to now I really thought that I’d been aging gracefully – that my program had kept deterioration to a minimum.

It just isn’t fair. I don’t smoke, I don’t drink, and with the exception of 3 months in a recliner, healing from injuries suffered in a dive off a treadmill, I have spent almost as much time in gyms as I have at the office and far more than in any church, school or department store. Whence then, this cascade of flesh that flows to the bottom when inverted? Maybe the answer is plastic surgery and a practitioner who won’t mind pulling the whole thing up and tying it in a knot at the top of my head.

Part of me still subscribes to the “blonde and taut after 60″ myth…at least the blonde part; my hairdresser advises that the window is closed on my opportunity to enjoy gray hair over a young face, so she and I continue to fool Mother Nature as gently as we can. I used to do that part myself: sometimes, in a stunning display of time management, I would send my husband to a movie, take off my clothes, apply hair color and do an aerobics tape while the color developed.. I prayed that, should there be a burglary in my future, let it be now when the burglar would be summarily scared to death or at least scared away. Since the carpets have been replaced, I have a salon for the color and a gym for the workout, but I still fight both battles.

The whole focus on fitness and youth is driving me to an early grave. So, what is aging gracefully, anyway? Will my husband leave me if I gain ten pounds? Of course not, he needs me to complete his sentences and find his glasses. Will my children think I’m an old frump if I sag a little more next year? They will anyway, I’m old enough to be their mother.

I know this: I don’t love my husband any less because he’s older than he was when I married him; in fact – and I don’t think of him as old cheese – age has improved him, considerably. So why do I apply a different standard to myself? I suspect that the ‘grace’ in ‘aging gracefully’ comes with acceptance of a body that reflects growth in measurements other than height and weight– mental, spiritual and emotional dimensions that are gained with living experience and they take time. I certainly wouldn’t want to trade my current levels of those commodities with any 25 year old, no matter how young and beautiful, and I wouldn’t want to trade IRAs, either.

So, maybe this is the year that I’m finally ready to accept the vagaries of gravity, take it easy and buy some bigger clothes. And maybe not.