A forty-year-old woman sits looking at photos of a twenty-year-old woman. She thinks to herself how beautiful the younger woman is with her flawless skin, perfect shape, and healthy glow. She compares it to how she looks with her cellulite and excessive curves, some in the wrong places. She wrinkles her nose.
A sixty-year-old woman sits looking at photos of a forty-year-old woman. She thinks to herself how beautiful the younger woman is with her womanly curves, the trophies of motherhood. She compares it to how she looks with her wrinkled and saggy skin. She wrinkles her nose.
An eighty-year-old woman sits looking at photos of a sixty-year-old woman. She thinks to herself how beautiful the younger woman is with expressive laugh lines around her mouth and eyes, the evidence of a happy life etched on her face. She compares it to how she looks with her stooped body that feels every ache and pain. She wrinkles her nose.
And then she realizes that she has spent her entire life wrinkling her nose at how she looks in the present and looking back with longing at her younger self who she did not appreciate at the time. She wishes now that she had loved herself more. There's always today.
I was mostly a fearless kid. In fact, I can remember only two times I felt fearful--one dealing with deep water (still a fear to this day) and another when some kids threatened to kick my ass after school (I talked my way out of it). In all other matters I was a risk taker, not afraid to fail, pretty damn confident that I was going to turn out all right. Don't get me wrong, I wasn't Evil Knievel--I was wired more for cerebral than for physical pursuits--though there was that day with the motorcycles, jumping ditches at the lots. In my twenties this fearlessness continued. I spoke my mind, interviewed for jobs I wanted but didn't have the skills for and got them, quit a well-paying job to start my own business. There was never a moment's doubt while I was going through all these things. I was like a superhero who couldn't be struck down.
And then the thirties arrived and self-knowledge tangoed into the room. The real stuff, not the façade. I realized that I was actually a very fearful person all along but had covered it up with toughness and an "attack before you are attacked" attitude. In much deeper journaling sessions than I had ever tackled, I uncovered fear upon fear. I thought it was good at the time to have done that--to know who I really was, to know I wasn't the image I had projected.
When I got pregnant with my son, all kinds of crazy hormones got added to the mix. There was such a mellowing of me with motherhood that I almost didn't recognize myself anymore. The hard candy shell cracked and the chewy, emotional center dripped out and gooed things up. Having come from a family where "you don't let 'em see you cry," this new me felt uncomfortable. And then there were the fears. Let's face it, there are no fears like the ones you have for a child.
Eventually, I came to embrace the more emotional me. Having a child made me a much more empathetic person. I didn't just use logic to work through a problem; I began taking people's feelings into account. And then the forties rolled in. How's this for reality?
I'M FUCKING AFRAID...
And sometimes those fears are debilitating. They cause me to be cautious and second guess...they cause me to look longingly over my shoulder at the younger me who didn't know herself better.
It seems inevitable that each year will get worse. There will be fears about health, disability, loss, death, finances, and a whole new generation of loved ones. Will I stop taking the very risks that brought me my biggest successes? Will I stay indoors for fear that a falling brick will land on my head? I'm not sure. I'll ponder these and other questions while I bungee jump off my roof.