So, my husband asked me to “sit” for the art class he is teaching, as they needed another face to draw. When he said I could just sit there and read, I accepted the job. But here’s the thing – I have always struggled with vanity: my knobby knees, my super skinny legs (ladies, not the kind of model skinny all of us wish for – but sticks with big giant knees), and during certain periods of time – my overbite – that caused me to be self-conscious about my smile. In fact, I made Kevin promise that when I die he will glue my lips together so my face won’t consist of my lips receding and leaving my big over bite teeth exposed. Since my second round of braces, I’m feeling better about the fear of overbite teeth exposure.
But my favorite thing about my body for most of my life was that I looked younger than I actually was. Once when I was getting my hair cut while in college, the beautician asked me if my mom drove me to my appointment. That was a little painful, because when you are young – you want to look older that you are. Well, as time progressed, I still looked at least 10 years younger than I was. Lovely. For whatever reason, menopause came late for me. Again, lovely. But here’s the thing – when menopause hit in my late 50’s – all the trauma, tragedy, stress, tension, suffering, difficulties of the last 15 years, showed up in my face. Wrinkles. A lot of them. Which of course brought on more stress and distress – I aged 20 years in 5. I googled it. I google everything. Because most things – the tickle on my head, the twitch on my eyelid, the cramps in my feet – I’m sure it’s all cancer. So, I google. And every time – literally – it says, all of the above is most often caused by stress. And when I googled how to not be as wrinkly – google said, “Avoid stress.” Of course, it suggested, eat your greens and drink lots of water, but mostly, “try to relax and let go.” Which led me to buy lots of different lotions, oils, and tonics . . . to try to calm my wrinkles. My face became very moist and soft but just as wrinkly. Well, I began to process the alternatives. The most obvious one (besides plastic surgery, of course, which I considered in a moment of panic) is to not ‘get’ to age – meaning not being alive. I reminded myself what a privilege it is that I get to age. I would give anything to have traded with my son, who died at 30, and let him get the chance to raise his babies and age, at least, to my age of 61. I get to have wrinkles. A young friend of mine (40 years old); just had a heart attack – called the “widow maker” because most don’t survive it. She did survive and we are so thankful. But it is another reminder of how fragile life is and how brief.
As I ponder that reality, I am reminded to value this moment. We each, daily, hold and try to sort through, disappointments, wounds, loss, and fears. We are painfully aware that we live in a broken world. But each moment also has beauty and life . . . and yes, possibly, wrinkles. How do I find my way from being overwhelmed, afraid and stressed to a place of peace and surrender? For me, a large piece of that journey has been presence and gratitude. I want to choose to be here and now, even if it is sad, painful and … wrinkly. And I want to embrace the beauty of being here. For today, I get to be 61. When I get startled occasionally, as I pass by a mirror in the store or look in the rear view mirror, and the light is especially revealing and not helping me to pretend I’m younger at all – I remind myself that I have earned every single wrinkle. I am a survivor! I made it through hell! And I have wrinkles to prove it!
I may have communicated mixed messages, but I have been on a journey of valuing and honoring my body. Our bodies are amazing. Did you know that your body holds all the trauma and pain you have walked through in your life? Much of the trauma from childhood, we have little memory of, but our bodies hold it tenderly and carefully for us. What a beautiful gift – that our bodies hold a lot of the hard parts of our lives so we can function. You may not even realize how much is being held for you. Most of us are unaware of that truth until later in life our body begins to reveal some of our story. Perhaps it is bad dreams, different kinds of body aches, tummy problems . . . an invitation to listen and ask if there is something our bodies want to share. Our body holding, is a temporary holding – until we are ready to process and own some of the unconscious parts of our stories. Since the trauma is still a part of us, there comes a point when our body needs help. It’s time to listen. It can feel very scary. But it is the process to freedom. Knowledge, insight and eventually liberation – part of you may have always wondered why you have certain fears, anxieties or feeling paralyzed to really embrace parts of your life. Well, when your body extends the invitation, have courage and say yes.
So, there I was, sitting for the art drawing class, and reading my book. I was reading Anne Lamott’s book, Traveling Mercies. The irony was that the chapter I was on was “The Aunties.” (In the art class, I did realize that looking down, reading, was probably not the most flattering posture for my wrinkles but, you know, I didn’t care … mostly.)
As I was having my face drawn, Anne Lamott was talking about her struggle with her body:
“So I was in the Mexican state of Oaxaca . . . Until recently, I was afraid to say that I am beautiful out loud for fear that people would look at me with cruel scrutiny and see a thinnish woman with tired wrinkly eyes, flabby thighs, scraggly-scraggly hair, and scraggly-scraggly teeth. I was afraid they would see the spidery veins on my legs and note that my bottom appears to be making a break for freedom from the confines of my swimsuit . . . After unpacking, I put on my best black swimsuit. It was very expensive when I got it, very alluring. The only fly in the ointment was that it no longer fit. Actually, I’m not positive it ever did, but at least I used to be able to get it on without bruising. . . anyway. I got my suit on and waddled down to the beach. I was not wearing a cover-up, not even a T-shirt. I had decided I was going to take my thighs and butt with me proudly wherever I went. I decided, in fact, on the way to the beach that I would treat them as if they were beloved elderly aunties, the kind who did embarrassing things at the beach, like roll their stockings into tubes around their ankles, but whom I was proud of because they were so great in every real and important way. So, we walked along, the three of us, the aunties and I . . . I imagined that I could feel the aunties beaming, as if they had been held captive in a dark closet too long, like Patty Hearst. Freed finally to stroll on a sandy Mexican beach: what a beautiful story.”
As I read, and tried to keep my pose – I smiled a lot (smiling only in my mind, because of course, I couldn’t move as they were drawing me) as I read about the aunties and as the class drew my wrinkles. I am thankful to have some peace around change – everything changes. And change often involves loss. And I grieved for a while the wrinkly reality of growing older. As I experience some acceptance and peace around it all – and the gratitude that I still have today to live and love (‘cause that’s all any of us have), and as I am filled with thanks that my body did hold huge painful pieces of my story for me till I was ready to listen, see, grieve and taste some freedom . . . I have to admit, I do try to smile a lot because it spreads my wrinkles out so I look younger.
I want to leave you with a beautiful practice of letting go and presence posted recently on Richard Rohr’s daily meditations – “Thich Nhat Hanh teaches this wisdom through the ceremony and meditation of tea (a Buddhist parallel to the Christian Eucharist):
“You must be completely awake in the present to enjoy the tea.
Only in the awareness of the present, can your hands feel the pleasant warmth of the cup.
Only in the present, can you savor the aroma, taste the sweetness, appreciate the delicacy.
If you are ruminating about the past, or worrying about the future, you will completely miss the experience of enjoying the cup of tea.
You will look down at the cup, and the tea will be gone.
Life is like that.
If you are not fully present, you will look around and it will be gone.
You will have missed the feel, the aroma, the delicacy and beauty of life.
It will seem to be speeding past you. The past is finished.
Learn from it and let it go.
The future is not even here yet. Plan for it, but do not waste your time worrying about it.
Worrying is worthless.
When you stop ruminating about what has already happened, when you stop worrying about what might never happen, then you will be in the present moment.
Then you will begin to experience joy in life.”