I knew it was coming. I mean, I am approaching the end of a decade. I’ve grown accustomed to the toddlers (clerks) at the health food store. When I ask for a recommendation, they often reply, “Well, my mother really likes this brand.” I can even accept the fact that my niece of twenty-four years is unfamiliar with The Beatles. Still, his response caught me off guard, or ‘threw me for a loop’, as we elders say.
His name will be changed to protect the naive, let’s just call him Stripling. He works the counter at a business here in Cambria. A diffident youth, he has a kind of sci-fi, goth-look – white skin, long dark hair. His T-shirts are black, many with something about death in the design. Sometimes he wears a baseball cap bedecked with tiny octagonal price tags (hot pink) you see on drugstore items.
At our initial encounter, his taciturn body language didn’t welcome interaction. But I figured we’d be seeing each other weekly (they sell the Sunday NYTimes) so I introduced myself with accompanying chitchat. He looked surprised…almost stunned. Even cracked a smile. On subsequent visits, we’d share brief pleasantries about tattoos, music, whatever. After a few weeks, he is noticeably more comfortable. Then comes the unexpected. A few days ago, I’m leaving through the open door when Stripling calls out, “Hey Heidi, how old are you?” I think to inform the youngen that it is improper etiquette that he or any of his generation (and gender) ask that question. Instead, I reply lightheartedly, “I’m not going to tell you my age.” Then on second thought, “OK. I will not tell you my age but I will tell you the year that I, no, the year that my twin brother was born.” Stating the year is amusing to me – it makes the exe-questioner work a bit. And by acknowledging the question, my nonchalance with age is affirmed. That is until I hear his jarred reaction – like he’d been punched in the stomach, or more like he’d made friends with the grim reaper. “OH SHIT!!!”
I was taught that in communication, tone is more important than content. Stripling’s tone is a fusion of disappointment, fear, shock, and…disgust. Not a response I’d heard before. Ever. I keep on walking and without turning around utter a comment like, “Yeah I know, I act like a child.” I step outside, feeling a lil’ discombobulated.
“Oh shit” he says?! Heidi, attitude….play with semantics…every day, we age. Every day then, is a New Age! To age is to be Alive! Hey, they’re not age spots, they’re freckles! They’re not wrinkles, they’re smile lines! Acceptance, woman! I put the car in gear to hurry back to the house to read from that book on gratitude.
I take the side road that borders the ocean. Sunlight dances on the waves and I remember my go-to. Laugh at self. Live in Gratitude. Inside the house, I kick off my shoes and glance in the hallway mirror. “I’m thankful I have legs to walk, and arms to flail. Eyes to see…” I move closer. Wait a sec. What’s up with the deep vertical wrinkle that is creasing the skin between my eyes? What the hell?! Where did that come from? It was not there yesterday. Oh for Pete’s sake, my wrinkles are healthier and faster-growing than my plants! With an air of resignation, I move to the refrigerator. There is only one item that lives on the surface of that appliance – a poem. Desiderata. Instructive and wise, it’s been within my reach for as long as I can remember. I caress the line with my finger: “Take kindly the counsel of the years, gracefully surrendering the things of youth.”
“People like you and I, though mortal of course like everyone else, do not grow old no matter how long we live…We never cease to stand like curious children before the great mystery into which we were born.” – letter from Albert Einstein to Otto Juliusburger
“We do not grow old absolutely, chronologically. We grow sometimes in one dimension, and not in another; unevenly. We grow partially. We are relative. We are mature in one realm, childish in another. The past, present, and future mingle ands pull us backward, forward, or fix us in the present. We are made up of layers, cells, constellations.” – Anais Nin
“One of the signs of passing youth is the birth of a sense of fellowship with other human beings as we take our place among them.” – Virginia Woolf
“I’m not interested in age. You’re as old as you feel.” – Elizabeth Arden
“There’s no pleasure on earth that’s worth sacrificing for the sake of an extra five years in the geriatric ward of the Sunset Old People’s Home.” – Horace Rumpole
To everything (turn, turn, turn)
There is a season (turn, turn, turn)
And a time to every purpose, under heaven – The Byrds