These days I feel a little as if I’m grieving for a younger me. I look in the mirror, and I contend with the greying hair and the imperfections that come with age, always shocked to remember that my neckline sags in the way of grandmothers and old great aunts. I have come to middle age, and I must say that it’s a difficult stop on this journey of being a woman. I’m not quite old enough to have earned the bags under my eyes or the ways that a red-head’s delicate porcelain skin seems prematurely worn; nor am I young enough to be round-cheeked and metabolically balanced. I’m in the no-man’s land of aging. The middle years, where any guess about my age is likely to be wrong one way or the other, depending on ridiculous things like how much water I’ve been drinking or how much I spent on my current anti-aging moisturizer.
I bought white leather tennis shoes because my teenaged daughter insisted on it. They are the kind of tennis shoes that I, at her age back in the 90s, would have considered truly gross. In my day only old men with extra long nose hairs and tall black sock wore shoes such as these. Yet, here I am, the proud owner of shoes for old men that are supposed to make me seem young and with it. Recently she and I stood in line at a store together, and a stranger slumped nearby, looking at us. Finally he couldn’t contain himself any longer and the words burst out of his scantily bearded face: “You look so much alike!” I just smiled and vaguely said, “Yeah….” because we actually don’t look much alike at all, so I decided the man was probably just visually impaired.
But then I looked at the two of us, standing there. And I realized that I was dressed just like her. I was wearing bootcut jeans because the world and this teenager I live with tell me they’re back. And so was she. We were both wearing our old man tennis shoes. And it dawned on me that what the man meant was that we were dressed alike. And I was the much inferior, wrinkled and somewhat sad version of the “look” that we were going for. Because this is what it’s like in the middle years. I can’t wear the embroidered cat shirts yet and I can no longer wear the crop tops. Jeans are a fathomless and confusing mystery. And shoes, well, we’ve already covered the shoes. I, in the middle years, truly have no clue what I’m doing.
Every single day it’s tempting to think too much about all of these things. To wish and pine for a younger me. I feel like I’m literally living the Proverb, “beauty is fleeting…” We all get old. We all lose our natural hair color and our full lips,. Our rosy cheeks grow pale. Lines appear. Age spots. One day we wake up to find that we are the aged ones, and we look in the mirror and see evidence that life is hard and that bodies are not made to last forever. These are hard truths that don’t become clear to you, not really, until you are here, in the middle years, when the evidence is right in front of you, etched in the glass over your bathroom sink.
A Greek myth tells the tale of Narcissus, a young man who saw his reflection in the smooth surface of a lake and fell in love with it. The story paints a picture of this beautiful young man, glued to his spot on the shore, staring endlessly at his own face until he finally wasted away and died. I can’t say that I have ever identified with Narcissus, this misguided fellow who just couldn’t get over himself. Until recently. In these middle years, I believe that I have been a little bit like him, a little bit too prone to stare at my own reflection–not to admire my beauty, but to grieve the fading of it. Both obsessions lead to waste.
If you want advice on how to dress an older body, what makeup works well with wrinkles, or whether old man shoes make you hip, I’ve got nothing for you. I’m all out of ideas. But, I can tell you this: I don’t plan on letting my very soul waste away while I sit in front of my mirror. Jesus has proven to be better than youth. Better than Botox or a personal stylist or a teenager with fashion advice. It would be a tragedy if I traded a desire to know Him more for something as temporary as the state of my face.
I’m not going to sugar coat this for you, though. This is harder than I expected it to be, this moving from youth to the middle years. This, like all difficult things, helps me to rely on Him. It helps me to remember that it isn’t just beauty that’s fleeting…it’s this life. Here, we age and we fade and we grow ill and we die. In eternity, it’s all beauty and youth and vigor and life. Spurgeon admonished his congregation to be grateful for the thorns and thistles that keep us from falling in love with this world. I suppose that this aging process is one of those. It’s a thorn. It stings. But it’s a very present, everyday reminder that there are better things coming. In the meantime, you’ll find me running all over town in my old man shoes, on order of my teenager. Try not to laugh if I look a little ridiculous. Remember, I’m in the middle years.