For the past few years I have found myself in a black mood around my birthday. It has been as bad as or worse than Mother's Day, which is the mother of all horrible holidays. Case in point: it's a quarter to midnight on a Thursday night, two days before the ominous day, and I am up staring at my computer screen because it seems a better alternative than sticking my head in the oven. Please excuse the dark humor, but I am feeling a little Sylvia Plath at the moment. Aside from the insistent ticking of the clock, reminding me that I really ought to think about sleep sometime, there is nothing here but empty dark silence in which to sit and ponder exactly why it is that I am sitting here pondering. Why the sudden doldrums around what used to be one of the happiest days of the year? Is it because my expectations are too high? Has it taken this long for me to pull back the veil of naive youth and realize that a birthday, for all intents and purposes, is just another day out of 365 other perfectly common and mundane days? Nope. After much pondering I have come to this conclusion: it is because I'm old. Now everyone over the age of 40 is closing their computer and rolling their eyes and huffily tucking a few stray grays behind their ears. "What I wouldn't give to be 29 again", they are thinking. Perhaps this is because they were never 29 going on 75. As I think about it, I'm not sure I ever was young. I have always loved the color purple, cats, crooners and long, slow Sunday drives. Looking back, I am beginning to fit the pieces of the puzzle together and so many "aha moments" are flooding my brain that it's about to have a power surge, which, given my prematurely elderly state, is likely to cause either a stroke or an aneurysm.
I realize, for instance, looking back, that watching reruns of The Golden Girls after high school is not a normal teenage activity. I have loved black licorice since I was a little girl, and I was taken aback when I heard a debate on the radio a few weeks ago over whether or not black licorice was "old people candy". The overwhelming consensus was that ,yes, most connoisseurs of black licorice had been enjoying it since the days they could chew it with their real teeth. I was slightly incensed, until I thought back and realized that my initial love of black licorice began with my great grandfather feeding me handfuls of black jelly beans as my great grandmother scolded him from the next room. I may or may not admit to having purchased bridge mix in bulk within the past year. I don't remember any elderly member of my family feeding it to me, but I somehow instinctively know that bridge mix is definitely old people candy. The fact that I enjoyed it whilst watching a documentary on the stock market crash of '29 doesn't exactly gain me any youth points either. (neither does the fact that I use words like "whilst". At least the old lady within me does not actually remember the crash of '29, although that would be much more "Twilight Zone"......young people know about that show, right?.... And moving right along.....It has also become apparent recently that my wardrobe choices could earn me admission into the nearest assisted living center. I occasionally wear a soft, cotton nightgown to bed in the summer. It's much cooler and more breathable, which is probably why the Golden Girls always wore them. My mom took me shopping on Monday evening to buy me a few new things for my birthday. I returned with several cute shirts, two of which were cardigans. I decided they would be comfortable and look fetching with my Chuck Taylors, which is probably why Mr. Rogers always wore sneakers with his cardigans. I blame the fact that, a few weeks ago, I limped and winced down Table Rock mountain, trying to keep up with my fifty something parents, on having tight IT bands and abnormally short legs, though I can't figure out why that blasted knee creaks and aches whenever it rains. If I weren't up typing right now, I'd be up on one of my five nightly bathroom trips. I wonder if I could invest in an overnight catheter.
Ok, ok, so you get the point; I'm a few bottles of prune juice away from my golden years. Why should this blacken my mood? Maybe because the superficial side of me has bought into the cultural myth that youth is everything. I watched "Oz the Great and Powerful" with my best friend last night. Near the end of the movie (spoiler alert), Glenda the good witch, uses her powers to expose her evil sister, Evanora, as the hideous old hag she really is. This is one of countless media portrayals of age being a sign of weakness and ugliness and youth being good and beautiful. I thought to myself, "what if the scenario were reversed? What if Glenda's youthful, dewy, radiant face suddenly became wrinkled and wizened and Evanora remained young and flawless in her cruel, cold, eternal beauty?" I honestly think it would be hard for society to root for the old woman over the picture of perfect youthful beauty. When men begin to go prematurely gray, they are "distinguished", like Sean Connery, who apparently discovered the fountain of youth when he was about 65, and has not aged a day since. When women begin to grow gray and sport wrinkles, we are one step closer to Driving Miss Daisy territory. This must be a pervasive fear among women everywhere, as the anti-aging industry became a 114 billion dollar industry in 2012. Youth has become our national idol, and we bow to beauty and sex appeal. And I fall into the trap as often as anyone. I know the collagen and elastin moisturizer I slather over my face each night will not reverse the appearance of the deep grooves running from the corners of my mouth to the end of my nose, yet I still slather it on every night. I guess there is a part of me that is afraid of getting older. And yet, when I really think about it, some of the people I admire most are far from their glory days, and some are no longer encumbered by this mortal existence: Audrey Hepburn, who was never more beautiful than she was in her later, Unicef years, Elie Wiesel, who earned every last white hair atop his head as a crown of glory for enduring the unspeakable hell of being a Jew in Nazi Germany and lived to tell a story to inspire millions; Mother Teresa, Gandhi, both of my grandmothers. These are all people who have really lived, and who have all gotten better and more glorious with age. Every wrinkle is made up of a thousand laughs or a thousand sleepless nights. Every gray hair is a lesson learned. If growing older puts me anywhere nearer to achieving the level of grace and wisdom attained by these giants of humanity, well then, stick me in a porch rocker and call me Ethel.