A Case for Aging Backward
I went into a mild sort of shock the other day when I was having my annual mammogram and the technician asked me “What is your age.” I looked at her and said, “Uh…ummm…what year is it? 2016? I think I’m 52. Wait. That’s not right. I’m 54. I’M 54?!???!!!!! When the hell did that happen?” The nice lady just calmly jotted down the number and said, “We’re going to start on your right side…”
When the subject of age has come up in conversation and I laughingly told people that I had “stopped counting,” apparently I wasn’t lying. Which is why I spent my entire mammogram in a semi-stupefied trance wrapping my brain around the number. The, “Oh my god I’m one year away from 55,” number! The “Holy crap that’s five years away from 60” number. The “I’m almost a senior citizen!” number. (Apparently I really believed all that AARP mail I’ve been receiving was junk mail.)
On the drive home I remembered a conversation with one of my sisters a few weeks earlier. We were people-watching somewhere when a pair of beautiful teenage girls strolled by in all their youthful glory. I turned to my sister and said, “They didn’t earn those bodies. We earned those bodies.”
“What are you talking about?”
“Well what has that child done to deserve that body?” I said, pointing to the girl with the long, straight, shiny hair (don’t they all have straight hair?), clear complexion, and flat stomach peeking out from her low slung jeans. “Has she worked for 30 years? Has she had to deal with all the day-to-day stress of raising a family or taking care of a sick husband or kids? Does she have to pay a mortgage and deal with lunatics at work? No. We get to do that. So we earned that body, not her.”
My sister looked at me with a sort of, “oh here we go” tolerance and said, “Did you just watch “Benjamin Button” or something,” referring to the 2008 film in which Brad Pitt ages backwards (thanks to great special FX).
“I’ve never seen it. But I think it’s right. Think about it: our reward for working, and being good citizens, and volunteering, and trying to raise good kids, and taking care of each other, and helping to make the world a better place, is to grow old, lose your hair or watch it turn grey, get wrinkles, get sick, watch your body fall apart, lose your eyesight, go deaf, have hair grow out of places hair has no place growing, get osteoporosis, fall down, break a hip, lose your teeth, not be able to eat steak, and die.” I was really feeling it now. “A body like that should be your reward,” I said, nodding towards the teen. “A body that does what you tell it to do. That looks great in everything you put on it… that’s flexible and fresh and doesn’t hurt when you get up in the morning. I want that body. I earned that body. She’s walking around in my body.”
My sister said, “Want me to go tell her to give it back?”
Her response pretty much took the wind out of my self-righteous ranting sails.
Recalling this conversation after my mammogram made me realize that while I may have been pridefully dismissive of my actual number of years on this earth, I have been completely conscious of the fact that I am aging…and not liking it. Maybe forgetting my age was my way of coping with the reality of that situation. That I need cheaters to see my food to eat it. That my knees hurt sometimes. That I have to pluck my upper lip and have grey hair sprouting from my eyebrows. That as much as I want it and spout arguments in it’s favor, I can’t have a teenager’s body.
Being in your fifties in this century certainly isn’t old, not compared to a few hundred years ago. And thanks to science you can inject almost any part of your body with something to fluff it, flush it, or fill it to look younger. There is plenty I can do, eat, and drink to ensure that my body stays in good shape. And reams have been written on how to keep my mind and spirit youthful. All good stuff. And yet…I can’t help but mourn a bit, and wish things were a little more equitable.
Perhaps I’m mourning what was and fear what will be, but I still think aging is a cruel reward for everything life throws at you. Maybe that’s why the idea of heaven as the ultimate reward stuck in the human psyche. No fear, no sorrow, no pain. Just a perfect you beyond the pearly gates.
Screw that. I want my reward now. Give me my body.