Growing old or growing up?

I used to dye my hair.  When I was getting close to sixty, my hair dresser pointed out a few grey hairs and apparently it was time.  ‘You deserve it,’ she said. I was still working and earning money, it was my treat.  Really? Have you ever sat with chemicals on your head for what feels like hours? It’s stinky, unpleasant and not my idea of a treat, no matter how good it looked. I’m embarrassed to admit I kept doing it — cue the global pandemic.

One of the hidden blessings of Covid, with all its horrid lockdowns, was no visits to the hair dresser. I was interested to see just how grey my hair was. I imagined being white-haired like Judy Dench, which I think looks fabulous, very silver fox. No such luck,  I have inherited my mother’s genes. My mother is ninety this July and is yet to go grey. Like her, I have white wings and the rest is, what my hair dresser calls, salt and pepper. Not in the least bit glamorous. When I was little I was told my hair was ‘mouse’ coloured.  Also not glamorous. *sigh*

I can hear my grandfather’s voice. ‘Vanity, vanity, all is vanity.

I decided to accept the grey and grow old gracefully. This is a photo of six year old me with mouse brown hair and me at sixty-six with salt and pepper hair.

Growing old is not a choice, it’s a privilege.

Growing up, on the other hand, now that is a choice. 

I’ve been waiting to be a grown up all my life and I’m pretty sure this is how everyone feels. I feel the same ‘me’ on the inside, while my outside keeps changing over and over.  

Side-note: Did you know our bodies completely renew (at a cellular level) every seven years. You are not the same person you were seven years ago and we are not in Kansas anymore.

I’ve always thought wisdom came with old age. I’m sorry to say, it’s not automatic.  I’m sure it wouldn’t take you long to think of some crazy old people you know who are still making dumb choices or who have their finger on the self-destruct button. People who are bitter and angry and full of resentment. They’re grumpy and unhappy and spend their lives complaining about everything. The world is full of doom and gloom and it’s as though they are attracted to bad news. They thrive on it and it’s hard to be around them.

How we think has a big impact on who we are. It sounds cliché to talk about whether our glass is half full or half empty, but it matters. We can see life through the lens of scarcity — the lack of everything good, or we can see it through the lens of abundance. (i.e. plenty to go around if we all share) 

I’m not saying we need to be all sunshine and unicorns, or positive thinking or keeping a stiff upper lip, that would be living in denial. We need to feel all our emotions, the good the bad and the ugly and name them to take their power away.  This is not about rose-coloured glasses or allowing others to walk all over you. Healthy boundaries are part of the inner work. It is about choosing to let go of resentment, it’s forgiving ourselves and others. It’s about choosing to grow up not just grow old.

If scarcity is our default position, we are being driven by fear. Abundance is underpinned by love. 

There are only a few older people I know who have done their inner work. They have chosen to love anyway regardless of whatever life throws at them. You can see it in the twinkling of their eyes.

‘You can have a wonky nose and a crooked mouth and a double chin and stick-out teeth, but if you have good thoughts it will shine out of your face like sunbeams and you will always look lovely.’ Roald Dahl.

 We have an old Christmas decoration.  It’s an angel with a crimson satin dress and beautiful gold wings. She sits on top of our tree each year. We bought her when our children were tiny and our eldest turned forty this month. She’s old. Last Christmas, as I was decorating our tree, I noticed her wings were looking shabby. The gilt had worn off in some places.  I dug through my thousands of pens *ahem* and found a gold paint pen and gave her a much needed touchup.

I feel like that sometimes. My gilding has been worn by many things over the years. The wear and tear was sometimes self inflicted, or by others, more often just living life. But each time there was a choice to become a better person. 

We all have a choice to become bitter or better.

When my time comes to leave this life, I want to be remembered as a person who loved and was loved. My wings may be tattered and the gold rubbed off— but it’s not a bad thing. Like in the story, ‘The Velveteen Rabbit,’ it’s what makes me real. 

Here is the quote in case you haven’t read this wonderful story. I particularly love that it’s a rocking horse who is speaking.

‘Generally, by the time you are Real, most of your hair has been loved off, and your eyes drop out and you get loose in the joints and very shabby. But these things don’t matter at all, because once you are Real you can’t be ugly, except to people who don’t understand.’ -The Velveteen Rabbit — Marjory Williams

This is our dear old rocking horse, ‘Bessie.’ Bessie is missing her eyes and quite a lot of hair because she is well loved. A second generation of children now ride Bessie and my cup runneth over. 

Next time you look in the mirror and notice the laugh lines, or crows feet, maybe worry lines that are becoming etched into your face, I hope you will remember that growing old is inevitable but growing up is a choice. 

May you be remembered as someone who loved and was loved.

Sending my love to you and yours. Thank you for reading. 

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