A tree has its beauty even when ravaged by woodpeckers.
I am shopping in Trader Joe’s this morning, on the way to get my hair cut, when I recognize a woman I haven’t seen in over a decade by the ice cream and frozen pepperoni pizza display. Once the wife of a friend, both have been happily divorced and happily united with other partners for a long time.
“You don’t look a day older than when I last saw you,” she gushes.
I thank her. I don’t believe it. A lot’s happened over the last dozen years. And yet, I wonder silently as she and I talk, she’s the one who doesn’t look a day older. She seems to have the same trim, athletic body I remember from before, her blonde hair is now blonder, longer, and falls in waves over her shoulders. The face is a little more worn, the skin not as smooth and satiny as I remember it, but there she is, a testament to time almost standing still.
She’s retired, she tells me. Works out every day in the gym. Her children and grandchildren are far away but she takes care of things in the house, takes care of her partner, relaxes, enjoys TV. She commiserates over Bernie’s death and a minute later we say goodbye. Twenty minutes later I’m sitting in a hairdresser’s chair contemplating my face and hair in the mirror.
I retain my brown hair but mostly in underlayers and in back; up front it’s gray and silver. I’m a little heavier, a little more squat. And my face, oh yes, my face. It’s always had blue furrows under the eyes; now they’re less blue but deeper. The mole on my left cheek has expanded. Vertical lines climb up above my upper lip and between my eyebrows like the pre-9/11 towers, and a patch of skin under the lower lip is somewhat mottled.
We make different decisions on how we age. There was a time when I flirted with the idea of coloring my hair, and decided no. Decided not to beat my age, but to look it. Not to try to look younger, that period when I was on the lower rungs of the learning curve, climbing slowly and painfully, illness and loss of someone I loved kicking me higher up that curve day by day.
Why shouldn’t I show my experience? Why shouldn’t I reveal some white hairs in my eyebrows? Why shouldn’t I let my hair age in peace, as I let the leaves age in peace come fall? I don’t yell at them for turning red, yellow, and orange in October, I don’t think they have to stay green all year. Why should I stay the same?
We’d made different decisions. Mine was to push forward with my work while staying as healthy as possible. Dumbstruck by life day after day, I see more creative opportunities than ever before, more alignment among the various things I do, be it writing (two additional writing projects in addition to this blog), teaching, and the organizing, planning, and teaching we’re doing on behalf of the Zen Peacemaker Order. There’s the undocumented families I care about, there’s my mother turning 93 today.
When you do that, all is not peaceful. Keeping things going, concern, meeting deadlines, the endless work that doesn’t satisfy all and never will—they have their effects. Don’t be surprised if you look at a mirror one day at the hairdresser and see their traces all over your body, your face, and your hair.
I don’t regret my decision. If anything, I’m grateful for the encounter in Trader Joe’s followed by the rumination in front of the mirror, reminding me, more and more consciously, of the choice I made.
Late yesterday I met Ofelia with her four small children. Her husband was biking to work and a white car ran him down in a hit-and-run. He lost control, the bike careened over the guardrail, smashed down into a wide culvert and he lost consciousness for almost an hour. When he awoke he lay there, unable to move. He called out, finally someone heard him and called an ambulance. In the hospital he was told that, among many things, he had a broken ankle and wouldn’t work for two months at the very least.
Ofelia (not her real name) works in the farms part-time, but can’t do more with four children at home. Jimena’s husband already promised them he could fix an old bike to bring him to work, but now they need financial help just to make it through this next period because, like everyone else, they barely make it paycheck to paycheck. If you can help, please do so by using the link for immigrant families below.
Thank you very much.
You can also send a check to: Eve Marko, POB 174, Montague, MA 01351. Please write on the memo line whether this is in support or immigrant families or of my blog. Thank you.