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For the Love of Ageing

I was at a party last year. A 40th. For my beautiful, strong, intelligent, single-mama friend. She is one of the most kind-hearted people I’ve ever met. She has been dealt some crappy hands in life and she’s mastered it like a damn amazon. She’s incredible, compassionate, and hilarious. The kind of woman you are glad to have in your life.

As we stood around chatting, we ended up on the subject of botox. Of the six of us, I was the only woman in the group who hadn’t had botox. Each woman said the reason she’d done it was to reduce the appearance of wrinkles and ageing.

For thousands of years women have worn makeup, dyed hair, and taken strange concoctions all with an aim of looking their best.. Botox is exceptionally common these days and has become an extension of those historic tendencies. Botox, boob jobs, even vaginal reconstructions are all well known and widely accepted in Western society.

My sadness at this conversation came not from women empowering themselves through conscious, educated choices that they believed would make them look their best.. My sadness came from the way my friends were talking about themselves. They talked about all they weren’t… instead of  all they were. They were cursing their wrinkles, their saggy breasts, and being officially “over the hill” at 40 years old. They were fighting the ageing process as though it was something to be rallied against. As though there was something wrong with getting old.

And it broke my heart.

I stood in the back of the house, with kids running through, and champagne growing warm in my hand and did everything I could to hold back tears.I was 32. I had a three year old and an eight week old. At that point, my prognosis didn’t look good.I wasn’t sure if I’d make it to 35, let alone 40.  I deeply craved having enough time to see every hair on my body turn grey. Or to be the “old lady” on the hiking track with sticks in each hand and a concerned looking grandchild escorting me

I wanted to shake these beautiful women and remind them: Every birthday is a privilege. Not a given.

I wanted them to love their wrinkles as a sign of glorious time spent with sun kissing their skin or joyful laughs with a friend or lover. I wanted them to view their saggy breasts and bellies as a reflection of the miracle of life they were blessed enough to harbour. I wanted them to feel the aches in their knees and backs as a price paid for every bushwalk and hike and bike ride and swim.

When we look into nature, surely there is nothing more breathtaking than an old, weathered tree? The saplings we walk past… but the trees who have aged, who’ve grown tall, who have weathered storms, who host a variety of wildlife in their branches, fungi on their roots, bugs on their leaves – those are the trees we stop and look at. They invite the eager limbs of children to climb because they are tough and sturdy from years of weather testing their strength. They provide shade to the weary because they allowed their branches to grow tall and wide. They inspire poetry and love songs.

Not once have I looked at an old tree and thought it would be more beautiful if it  just had symmetrical branches. Or smoother bark. Or more supple leaves. The concept is ridiculous.

Or how many times have you looked at a dead tree in the middle of the countryside, still standing tall, and marvelled at its beauty? Its strength despite death. That tree is a perch for birds, a home for bugs, and its shadow a respite from the sun for small animals. Even in death it serves a purpose. And, one day, it will fall and decompose and the soil will be richer for it. Even in death it is beautiful and gives back to the natural systems.

You cannot fight the passage of time. We are going to get old.. hopefully. You are older now than when you began reading this piece. It’s part of what makes life so damn special. And, like a tree, we each grow more beautiful with age. The tangible signs of our ageing allow our wisdom and inner strength to shine through to others around us. To let them know: we’ve done stuff, we’ve seen stuff, and we are a safe refuge to help others with their stuff.

We need to challenge the paradigm that our worth is tied to our aesthetics. It is not! We are the sum total of all the smiles we’ve given to a stranger. All the hugs we’ve bestowed on our family. Every phone call to a friend in need. Each piece of rubbish we’ve collected on a hike. Every child’s hand we’ve held as they navigated a new task. Our worth is not associated with our physical appearance but rather our merit is congruent with the beauty we bring to the world.So on your next birthday, don’t curse the moon for the passage of time. Thank your body for still being able to climb ,hike,swim, or ride. Thank the universe for the opportunity to bring beauty into the world that is in excess of your aesthetics. Show your kids that their mama loves her body and all it can do. You will be giving them the power to do the same with theirs. Like a beautiful old tree, focus on the legacy you’ll be leaving the world long after you die and your life will be all the richer.

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