The Vanities of Aging
Confronting Our Mid-Life Challenges
Vanity of vanities, saith the Preacher, vanity of vanities; all is vanity.
Three years ago I experienced the thrill of turning 50. For me any birthday with a zero behind it was a special occasion. Each new decade signaled a new chapter in my life, a new beginning of sorts. I remembered when I turned 40 my Aunt Helen lovingly expressing to me the old adage, “Life begins at 40!” For me it really did. My 40s were a decade of singular accomplishments. I earned my B.A. at age 43; I reached a high level on the earning ladder at my then workplace; I was at my physical and sexual peak as a woman; and I had a new sassiness and vibe that enabled me to reach new heights on that climb to success.
My 50th birthday was exciting with friends taking me out to dinner, a beautiful birthday cake, balloons, flowers; but after the celebration was over a certain uneasiness set in. “Wow. I’ve lived over half my life.” The career I had carefully developed had hit a brick wall. In fact I seemed to hit a plateau in terms of career success. Then came “The Change”. I was not prepared. For puberty my mother and I had “The Talk”. However as I entered menopause my mother was long since gone on to her Heavenly reward and during this frightening period of my life my last link to the past, my beloved Aunt Helen passed away. I missed my Mom and my aunts terribly. Then horrible things were happening to my body that I did not understand. I sought explanations and some assistance from various GYNs. Their answers usually involved some sort of hormonal treatments which I instantly rejected since both my parents died from cancer. I decided I would just endure the deluge of sweat that engulfed my body day and night, drenching my clothes and making sleep impossible.
Of course I tried all types of holistic treatments. I do believe I’ve been through every herb and natural juices offered in the health food store. Nothing. No effect at all. I’ve decided it’s best to stay near the A.C., turn the fan on at night and keep bottled water with me at all times.
Menopause is an evil creature. She brought along her friends high blood pressure and arthritis to add to my daily pain and discomfort. Yes, this certainly was a ‘Change of Life’. Everything changed in my life, my diet, my ability to go up and down stairs without stopping for breath, the increased popping and cracking in my joints. I kind of felt like a human Rice Krispies, “Snap, Crackle, & Pop.” My mind was just as sharp and creative as it was at age 25 but I could not get my body in agreement with my mental desires.
But I told myself that I still had my good looks. Thanks to a fantastic gene pool and being a dark skinned African American Woman the saying, “Black don’t crack” is really true. Mind you this proverb only works if you took care of yourself when you were in your 20s, 30s and early 40s. I never smoked, did not do drugs, and only drank socially. I also exercised albeit moderately which kept me in fairly good physical condition. I’m also lucky that most of my family tend to be small people so I’ll never gain an extreme amount of weight.
However specific physical changes cannot be avoided. By the time I was 52 all my hair had turned white, seemingly overnight. Finally one day when I overheard a co-worker described me as the African-American lady with the white hair I knew I had to do something. The bubble burst. Reality set in. Oh My God! I look old! This would never do.
After conferencing with several women co-workers I decided upon L’Oreal Feria. First I started out brown because I had read that going back to my original color of black would just make me look hard and emphasize any lines my face might have. Finally I went red, no not Kool-Aid red like some of the pop stars but a spicy Fire Engine Red that matched my fiery personality. This was the time of my life to really experiment. After 40 more of the free spirit in me came out. I got tattoos on a yearly basis. Sometime after I turned fifty I had my belly button pierced but then my belly played a trick on me and I developed that menopausal belly bulge that comes to nearly all 50+ women.
Was this a chase after lost youth? No because I’ve always been a non-conformist. My parents were Free-Thinkers and they brought me up to be my own person. I remember when I decided to spike my hair back when I was in my 20s. My Dad thought I looked so wonderful that he took pictures of me and had them blown up to poster size. My parents support and encouragement fostered in me a self confidence that has enabled me to survive a multitude of challenges. It has given me a sustaining power. My mother and father always encouraged my creativity and insisted that I think for myself not just follow the script handed to us by society in general.
For me the next 50 years will be a celebration of maturity and individuality with lots of creativity and a little bit of insanity thrown in for good measure.
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