Getting checked out at the grocery store one day a few years ago, the bill came to $19.45. The cashier said, “Don’t see that come up every day. That was the year I was born. I would have guessed her age at 70, give or take a year.
About a year before I was forced to retire another employee said, “Only two years and two months until I retire.”
“Really,” I said, thinking she was planning to work a few years beyond what was once considered ‘mandatory’ retirement age, 65. “How old are you?”
“Older than you,” she answered. “I’ll be 63 in two months.”
That surprised me because I was going to be 63 in just another month.
A couple days ago I looked at a picture of the second oldest child of my parents, my brother. That’s what spawned this little missive, because for the first time in his life, I thought he looked older than me.
Over the years my brothers and sisters at times looked heavier than me, less healthy than me, less tan than me, less happy or less sad than me, but they’ve always looked younger than me.
After looking at my brother’s picture I went into the bathroom and took a good look at myself. Usually when we look at ourselves we check to make sure we look okay: hair in place, whiskers adequately trimmed, combed, removed; no smudges of any kind (dirt, makeup, lipstick, acne); and so on. We rarely really look at ourselves. When we look at ourselves concerning the aging process, we usually look to see if we still look young (at least, young for our age). I’ve always thought I looked young for my age.
I used to convince kids 20 or 30 years younger than me that I was only ten or twenty years older than them. Sometimes I think they thought I looked a little old for my age, but they rarely questioned my statement. If I said I was 40, then, although, I may have looked like I was in my 50’s, they could see that it was believable, I could be 40. They had seen 40 year olds who looked older than me. Usually those people were heavier, grayer, had less hair or were more wrinkled than I.
People go to a lot of trouble to keep themselves looking young: Botox, plastic surgery, hair implants, tooth implants, tooth whitener, hair coloring and so it goes. I’ve seen very old women (and a few very old men) who look terrible. Their hair is unnatural, there is too much makeup on their skin which has been stretched in such a way that it looks like their face hurts.
When I was a kid we used to stretch our faces in different ways to be funny. Some old people I’ve seen remind me of some of the funny, contorted faces my grade school classmates managed to pull off (pun intended).
There comes a time when we should give in to the aging process and let ourselves go, rather than look as ridiculous as we are trying far too hard not to look. We need to throw the girdle away, stop buying the hair dye, let the dermatologist and plastic surgeon find other customers, and go for a natural look, rather than the alien unnatural look we often spend too much time and money trying to maintain.
That picture was sort of a wake-up call. How could someone who is and who has always looked younger than me, look so old?
My first glance into the mirror was just that, a glance. “Yep, he looks older.”
Then I turned on all the lights, took out a hand mirror and got up close. Jowls. The beginning of a double chin. Pale skin. Gray stubble. Salt and pepper hair that was a little heavier on the salt than my brother’s. More wrinkles around my eyes and the corners of my mouth than I remembered. And that hairline, was it the same or had the tide gone out a little further?
Looking in the mirror I began picturing all the people I thought looked older than me: the woman at the cash register, the fellow employee, people I see around where I live, at the hospital, at the library and so on. Face after face and I realized all those times I compared the way they looked to the way I looked, the comparison wasn’t fair. I was comparing them to the way I thought I looked, which was closer to the way I looked when was about 45, the age I was when I began realizing I was getting old.
I stared at that face in the mirror and said to it, “You know, you’re starting to look older than I am.”