(Graphic by Helen Jane Hearn/TueNight)
Age is transforming me into a graceless buffoon.
Case in point: I’m cooking a giant pot of soup. Tonight, it’s kale and beans, made with the leftover bones of a rotisserie chicken from a few nights previous. (I call it “Free Chicken Soup” — buy a chicken, get the soup for freeeee!)
My cell rings, the dog barks, my son stomps by grudgingly on his way to practice his trumpet. I twist to the left, and my elbow sends the big wooden spoon flying off of the counter and into the forest of dog hair on our kitchen floor.
In my mind, I swoop down in one fluid movement to retrieve the spoon, rinse it effortlessly in the sink with one hand while dispensing an encouraging booty smack to my son, then pluck up the cell while striding to the back door to let out the dog. In thirty seconds flat, the world is set aright. Soup bubbling. Client satisfied. Son and dog on track.
But my mind has forgotten my knee.
In reality, as I bend down to grab the spoon, my knee crackles like bubble wrap (remnants of an old skiing injury.) So I stop halfway and do a sort of splay-legged lean. My butt juts out goofily, and, as my son passes by, I feel a pang of embarrassment to be seen in this position. He’s only twelve and hasn’t yet hit the “my mom is so stupid” phase of his adolescence, yet through his eyes I travel via wormhole to my 15-year-old self and give a gigantic eye roll to this galumphing creature, bent ludicrously over her hairy spoon.
Through my son’s eyes, I travel via wormhole to my 15-year-old self and give a gigantic eye roll to this galumphing creature, bent ludicrously over her hairy spoon.
Having humiliated myself to myself, I snatch up the spoon and put it bowl-side-up under the tap, splashing water over half the counter. I ignore my stomping son and nearly trip over the carpet on my way to grab the phone and open the back door. It’s too late. The client has hung up, and the file is due to the printer in ten minutes. The dog barks again, and I curse under my breath as I yank open the door.
A crust of carbon is hardening at the bottom of the soup pot.
Physical grace? Once mine. Now gone.
At 15, I was as small and lithe as a cat. In my twenties, I was willowy and quiet and strangers often asked if I was a dancer. In my thirties, I grew muscular, and in my forties I became a powerhouse of physical achievement, chasing my toddler, pounding on my computer at all hours, seducing my husband, gliding through the city on my beater bike and generally feeling like the queen of the universe.
But here on the rim of my 50s, I feel my physical grace dropping away like petals from an overblown peony. My estrogen deserted me abruptly at the age of 47, and while I can’t say enough about the joy of freedom from menstruation, the cascade of physical effects from that loss are myriad and bewildering. My knees are creaking. My hips, widened and loosened by childbirth, are padded by a layer of fat I’ve never seen before — not the sexy lower-hip jiggle that makes big women so delicious, but a weird deposit on the crown of my hips that makes me look rumpy and graceless. My near-sighted vision is shot to hell — I can’t even tell the shampoo from the conditioner unless I wear my reading glasses in the shower. The rest of the time, those glasses are either nested on my head, wrecking my ‘do, or perched at the end of my nose á la Granny Clampett. And I often wish for a hit of Granny’s rheumatiz medicine to soothe the unfamiliar twinges, aches and pangs that come with all of these changes. It’s a weird, weird time of life.
I think back to that 15-year-old girl and her flawless body. Of course, I was hopelessly unaware of my perfection, as are we all at that age. I had staggered through puberty and was finally on the other side, and I often think of that age as the real beginning of my life — so much so that, when I do the math, I think, “I’ve only been alive for 35 years. I still have another 40 or so ahead of me.”
The physical grace of an 18-year-old cross country runner is no greater than that of an 80-year-old stretching out a shaking hand to greet an old friend.
The years leading up to that rebirth were tough, and I see the struggle in my son and his classmates in middle school. The pointy elbows and knobby knees. The greasy faces and cracking voices. The growing pains in their shins and bellies. The indefinable rage.
Puberty. You couldn’t pay me enough to go through it again.
And yet here I am, bumbling my way through the same process but in reverse.
Good god, you should see me dance now…it’s downright horrifying. Where I used to fling myself around the room, all swirling hair and totemic foot stomps, I now find myself pulling everything in tight and “safe.” Elbows close to the waist, belly sucked in, eyes down. I can’t bring myself to let loose, worried that I’ll slip on an ice cube or, worse, look ridiculous.
Same thing when I’m on the bike. My husband and I went for a trail ride yesterday, and rather than fly down the root-embroidered paths with abandon, I found myself thinking about how badly a broken wrist would affect my business. When I lifted the bike over a log, Dave came back to help me when he saw me struggling. Shamefaced, I accepted his aid.
Worse, it’s the small everyday movements that make me feel the most graceless. The stoops, kneels and tiptoes. The getting ups and the sitting downs.
I sometimes worry that this is the beginning of my end. That I’ll stumble and dodder my way into old age, anxious and guarded, as my rusted parts wear out and need to be replaced one by one.
But when I get out of my head and look around, I see the next generation of women in my circle, now in their sixties, seventies and even eighties. Their children are grown, and their careers have reached the point where they can take on more satisfying endeavors. They have time to go to the gym now. Time for long walks and lunches with friends. Time to take a luxuriously lengthy shower and put on some freakin’ makeup. On the other side of menopause, they’ve fixed what they could and accepted what they’ve had to. They travel, volunteer, create, communicate and collaborate. They dance. All the time. And they look amazing.
They are full of grace.
There’s a concept called “irresistible grace” — a Christian doctrine that preaches that God has already determined who will be saved. The “elect” may struggle to reject God’s favor and resist God’s call, yet ultimately they have no choice but to yield their souls to the almighty.
This sounds like complete bullshit to me. I reject it because it rejects humanity’s free will and places all the power, even the power of the love of God, into the hands of a control-freak fascist of a deity.
However I like the idea of grace itself being irresistible. That as much as we struggle and flounder, we are made to find grace and to embody it. The physical grace of an 18-year-old cross country runner is no greater than that of an 80-year-old stretching out a shaking hand to greet an old friend.
I find myself in a time of transition, and that’s hard. Maybe it’s time to get back into yoga. Eat fewer peanut butter cups. Stop chasing after clients and start thinking about what else I’d like to do with my time and skill. Maybe even to stop being so afraid of those estrogen patches.
I’ve often thought of age as the deterioration of a flower, but I forget that the fruit can grow only after the last petal has fallen. The fall is irresistible. Maybe the fruit is, too.
Maybe I’m just at an awkward age.