“Just think, you’re now the age that you’ll tell people you are for the rest of your life!”
She meant no harm. She meant it as a joke, a clichéd comment that everyone makes about aging. But even so, I felt sad and a little grossed out by it.
I was turning 29 and I was having a good day. The night before I’d been treated to dinner at my favorite pasta restaurant, then gone to see Get Out. It was exactly the relaxed birthday night I wanted. Today, my actual birthday, I’d been able to leave work early and spend the afternoon on my own, watching TV and putting my energy into personal projects.
But this comment from a happy-birthday phone call left me feeling icky. Not because of the person who said it, but just because this idea still exists and persists.
I’m excited to be 29. I’m actually more excited to turn 30 next year. It’s a big milestone. I’ve lived for all these years; I’ve survived. And I’ve built a life for myself that’s currently making me very happy. That’s an accomplishment.
But this kind of thinking, this attitude that women should be embarrassed by or ashamed of aging, tries to negate all of that.
No reason to be too proud of your life, because your wrinkles will start to show soon, it says.
Don’t brag about your accomplishments, because they’ll reveal how LONG ago high school was, it says.
Don’t let anyone know you’re climbing uphill, because no one will want you, it says.
Most of the people in my life, thankfully, do not have this attitude. And I like to think that’s because I have built a life with people who share my outlook and values. I work with and hang out with women who are proud as hell of their ages and accomplishments. I was raised by a woman who knows how much wisdom and knowledge her years of life have brought her. I admire women who bring their years, their wrinkles, their weight gain or loss, their post-baby bodies, their scars, their knowledge, and their experience to the table, who lay it all out for everyone to see exactly as it is.
These are the women I want to spend my time with. These are the women whose opinions and advice matter to me.
And it’s not that these women and I are never bothered by aging. We know what it means—it means that we are a little closer to death. Our time is coming to an end. Our bodies are headed toward slowing—and eventually shutting—down. And I, for one, am terrified. I’m terrified of death, of everything I know fading into black, into nothing. It’s a horrifying prospect. I am really holding out for scientific advances that will...well, not keep me alive forever (I’ve read too many novels to know that would actually be hell), but will keep me alive long enough to find peace with going. Taking my bow when I’m ready.
But this fear does not define me. I can be afraid of death and also be proud to near 30 years old. It feels like nothing, it’s just the inevitable next step. And that’s how, I hope, I’ll feel about 40 when I’m 39. And 50 when I’m 49. I’m sure I’ll be sad or disappointed at the changes in my body or my physical abilities. I might be more unnerved by my inescapable mortality. But I hope to always be proud and excited that I’ve made it. That I’ve lived through another year, learned something else new, shared another moment with a friend, seen another new place, taken on another new project. I want to always learn and grow.
And I can’t do any of that without time marching steadily on, toward my next birthday and my increasing age. I’m not being pulled along against my will. I’m walking forward.