My husband held me in his arms the other night and tenderly said to me: "You look like you're twenty right now." I smiled and kissed him and thought about it. His comment was so sweet, but I knew he really didn't only mean my skin or the lines which, in that particular light were less than visible on my face; he meant my freedom from worry. As we grow older, so many of us long for a time in our lives when we hadn't made certain choices, certain decisions which led to financial or emotional ruin, or gotten into relationships that were toxic, or other unhealthy adventures. Our culture, especially for women, tends to focus on the outer appearances of things; promoting an endless stream of products designed to enhance your youthful appearance and erase the gray hair, wrinkles and sagging skin which mark the passage of time.
In my quest to understand where I am in the time/space continuum at any given moment, it has become crystal clear to me that the youth I long for is not a youth of bouncy, shiny hair or more elasticity in my skin (though these things are delightful) rather, my longing for certain periods of my youth is inextricably connected to my deep and vast regret about certain decisions I have made, relationships I have entered into, patterns I developed. When I muse about being nineteen, nine or twenty nine (or, okay, yes, even thirty-nine!) I don't sigh wistfully about my crow's feet, but about my thought processes at that time and wonder sadly why I thought the way that I did.
Working through these regrets and making peace with the decisions you've made and the life you've come to create is part of the life lesson of middle age. But we are a youth-obsessed culture, forever promoting and celebrating adolescence and shirking our middle of life responsibility toward ourselves and our loved ones to dig a little deeper, make sense of what has come before so that we may forge ahead in the years to come with greater clarity and understanding, compassion and wisdom.
In some cultures, older people are respected for their wisdom.