My birthday calendar has just turned over and I have added another number to the question of “how old are you?” In my recent introduction to the world of cataract surgery, the nurse completing what I think was the third form of the day, began her task by asking me to tell her my birth date and age. I am not sure if this was a quiz to see if I could do the math or a test to ensure that the ill-fated journey to dementia hasn’t taken its first step.
The nurse’s response to my age declaration was: you look great. To her credit, she didn’t add for your age. I smiled, quite content that my three score plus years hadn’t really taken its toll. I left her company ready and willing to have the surgeon plunge a needle in my eye.
On the ride home, I cheerfully boasted about the conversation to my husband. Wise man that he is, he affirmed the nurse’s acclimation.
That evening, with only one eye available for a mirror scrutiny, I conducted a more thorough investigation of the face peering before me. Thanks to a good gene pool and skin that never saw the sun as a friend, I have not yet started to acquire the lines around the eyes that can be measured in inches or dark spots on my hands that cannot be mistaken for freckles growing larger. Many years ago, my then-10-year-old niece prophesized that I would never be gray. Thanks to the talents of professionals in the hair color business, she has proven to be correct.
But when did all of this start to matter?
I have always looked my age. When I was 18, I could get into bars (that was the drinking age in those years) with my own proof. Not once was I turned away from the door or had my documentation closely scrutinized. The mere fact that my then drink-du-jour was a blackberry brandy sour was reason enough for the bureaucrats years later to wisely increase the drinking age to 21 . By the time I reached that milestone, I was a bit wiser and my palate slightly more sophisticated. And I could vote.
I became a Dean of Students at a small liberal arts college by the age of 30. The parents of my students thought I looked young for the job. That was not necessarily correct. I was just young for the job; my skin needed to thicken more than it had.
The question is what does an age look like?
As the wife of a former high school English teacher, it was not uncommon to see the moms competing with their daughters for the same look. It led me to think that just because you can, doesn’t necessarily mean you should. My mother would have never thought of wearing the same outfit as I did to school. Given the fact that I wore a uniform, it was a good decision on her part for a whole host of reasons.
So today, I scrutinized my mother’s framed picture that has perched on the desk in my dining room for longer than I can remember. Mom was younger than I am today when that picture was taken. I found few wrinkles around the eyes; her tightly waved hair was just beginning to have threads of gray woven in; and the laugh lines around her mouth spoke more about how she lived her life than how many years she had lived.
Yep, she looked really good.
So, despite all this introspection, I still want the response to my age to be—you look great. Because to tell the truth, I don’t know what my age is to suppose to look like or how it is supposed to feel. But great will do.