the joke, or life as a circus

Today I found a gray eyelash. Ah…whah?

God (and very few others) knows I have gray hair pretty much everywhere hair grows (even spots where it shouldn’t). But my eyelashes? They were the last bastion of youthful hair in my body, and their reign as such was over before I even knew they were a bastion.

I found this offending lower lash (it gets worse) while looking into my magnifying mirror which (and even worse) I now need to avoid looking like something out of Whatever Happened to Baby Jane. Or is that just Baby Jane? Uh, did I mention my memory is going, too?

Oi. When did all this happen?  When did I get so old, so middle-aged, so like…my mother?  No offense, Mom, but you know how it is. While you’re growing up, your parents are the previous model, living dinosaurs who talk about dead people, listen to tragically old music and wear laughable clothes from another era.  Even in their early thirties, I believed my parents were seriously O-L-D.

I used to calculate what year it would be when I turned 30. I would roll “1997” around in my pre-adolescent brain and wonder at how far away it was, as well as the impossibly aged sound of “30” as if I were trying to conjure up a visual image of what one-billion looks like.  Unfathomable when you are 10.

I don’t want to fall into some cliché-ed rant about how unfair growing old is, how youth is wasted on the young, how our bodies betray us, how short life is, how existentially meaningless it all is, etc., etc.

But I have to say, it sometimes does feel like someone is playing a practical joke on us humans.  At least on me.

In my 20s, I had it all – a high metabolism; relatively good looks; a fit, impervious-to-injury- body; a sharp(er) mind (and memory, if I remember correctly); FREEDOM; and a sense that the world was full of possibility.

Did I know I had it all? Does an ostrich know it has wings? I only saw what I didn’t have, the imperfections and flaws in my body and mind. I lacked any direction or motivation that could have put all that lovely, young sap into something amazing.  I was too busy luxuriating in narcissistic, existential angst (my favorite writer was Milan Kundera – hence the title of this piece stolen from his book, The Joke) and bewilderment.  To top it off, I was hyper-focused on men, allowing dating and relationships to occupy whatever creative cerebrum space I had.  Needless to say, I was miserable.

In my 30s, I had even more…and somehow less.  Husband, babies, house, business – it was a lot and served to occupy every ounce of me.  I had no space to think, let alone make some big statement in the world or pursue creative, fulfilling or fun avocations.

So now we get to my 40s and the reason I’m writing this.  I finally have space to breathe and think; and the patience, calmness and lack of self-doubt to cultivate it.  In the last four years, I have developed a mien for artistic photography (even sold some shots!), tried my hand at being a partner in an art gallery, taken up (okay, developed an obsession for) tennis, traveled more than ever, launched this blog and an app for teens and their parents late last year (www.teensphere.com).

But the universal joke is on me, you see. Just as I have the confidence and maturity to start really living, my physical being is withering away with mounting speed. More than gray or stray hairs, or even wrinkles, it is the body-pains and aches, the injuries, the weird health issues, the failing eyes — all of which seem like a practical joke, banana peels thrown my way by Bozo the Universal Clown.

But I promised not to go all negative, “poor old me” on you, so I’m reframing my thinking around this irony-of-aging thing into something a little more positive.

Here’s what I’m thinking: rather than a joke, it must be a universal balancing act. Not the clown show at the circus, but the high-wire act. Forgive the big top metaphor, but I’d like to go with it for a minute.

Imagine this.You’re going along the high-wire, a leotard and tutu covering your fit, fabulous body, but your brain – well let’s just say you aren’t very mature even though your synapses are firing on all six cylinders – is not making the best decisions. Your powerful, youthful body can handle it, though. It either catches you when you take a wrong step, or it isn’t hurt too badly when you fall into the net below.

Do I sound like a dorky self-help book yet? I’m sure you know where this is headed: Your body ages, and gets hurt more easily, you aren’t as strong physically, but your mind and experience keep you from making as many mistakes as you go along that high wire.  You might not even need the little umbrella-thingy, which is really a crutch anyway, to keep your balance.

My premise is simple: we trade youth and its wonderful beauty and resiliency fraught with emotional pain and bewilderment, for wisdom fraught with physical pain and degeneration.

Somewhere along that high-wire, we cross a line. We are more wise than unwise.  The balance tips. The pendulum swings. But we have to pay the piper – there’s no such thing as a free lunch – you can’t have both youth and wisdom at the same time unless you’re the Dalai Lama, and, as we know, there can be only one Dalai Lama at any given point in history.

So you pay with emotional and/or physical pain. But getting hurt — physically or emotionally — then taking the time to heal, is part of the path of greater and greater wisdom.

When I hurt my shoulder in tennis a couple years ago (it still tweaks out once in a while), I railed against the gods, my tennis pro and my surgeon when he told me I was out for at least four months.  The injustice of it! I find a sport I actually like doing, one that I am improving in every day and it is snatched away in one stupid attempt at a topspin forehand.  Bloody banana peel, I would have thought … if I had thought of the whole joke concept yet.

But looking at it now, I realize that being forced to sit out meant I had to the energy and mental space to start this blog. Tennis had frankly started to eat up most of my free time and head space, and my creative self wasn’t being fed. Ka-Pow.

Lighting bolt.

Light bulb.

Duh.

The universe and I were out of balance, and I had to pay the price. But it gave me the gift of this blog, which has been a mind-blowing, cathartic and, believe it or not, healing powerhouse in my life. It is probably one of the more transformational things I have ever done and far better than any therapy I’ve ever experienced.

If hurting my shoulder was the price of catharsis, well, I guess it was worth it.

My final, final thought on the subject?  Wisdom comes to you over time, with every step you take, dangerous or careful. But beware — it takes a body part or your sense of peace before you reach the platform.

So who cares if I have tendonitis in both knees and I limp up and down stairs. Who even notices I have gray eyelashes under my mascara?  I am much, much more than the outside shell, the “plastique” as the French call it.

And, heck, at this rate of injury and aging as the trade-off for wisdom, I’m bound reach a state of nirvana really soon.

Or have I taken this line of thinking just a tad too far…?

Nah. It’s way better than Bozo and banana peels, so I’m going with it. Plus I’m wise now, so roll with me, okay?!

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2 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. AMW
    Jan 09, 2012 @ 15:29:41

    Good post, Molly.
    I actually found my 40’s so similar to 30’s they were a breeze. Just think of your 50’s and you’ll get the picture….:D For me, no aches, no pains, no memory loss as yet…just not looking quite the same. It’s real alright and I do believe it forces one to reevaluate everything on a large and brutal scale. Thank God for kids to provide the mark of having been here this long. Even Joan Didion isn’t coping too well with aging (I just finished Blue Nights, quite depressing). But beyond having to cope with real illness and serious pain, where one is forced to philosophize immediately, it’s all quite remarkable as we journey through our lives and consider how we are shaped by it. Are we who we thought we’d be, who we want to be? Are we kinder, or more bitter? Are we more, or less, forgiving of others and life’s adversities? Are we less consumed with trivialities that so preoccupied earlier decades? Are we more mature, ready to impart our experience and knowledge, that was so well earned?
    Let’s bloody well hope so!

    Reply

  2. Bec Felland-Syring (@SyringMusicLLC)
    Jan 09, 2012 @ 21:08:51

    Hmmm….it takes me a couple of days to get the time to read your blog. I see it pop up in my mail box every so often and I think, cool! Molly has a new blog entry. But it takes me a couple of days to actually read it because I know it’s going to be good, I’m going to want to take my time, and it’s going to make me stop and re-evaluate something about life again. You’re always thought provoking and I appreciate it. It’s a good thing. Now I sound like Martha Stewart and that’s dating me. You and I are obviously on the same life schedule!

    Reply

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