Does it Hurt?


I knew this chrysalis stage was going to be rough but I have to admit the unrelenting joy was a total surprise. “The caterpillar chooses the food the butterfly will need, chooses the exact space to later spread its wings, without the space, the wings would never fly,” writes Marion Woodman. She goes on to say the chrysalis is essential. It is the twilight zone, a precarious world between past and future, like living in the gap, it naturally defines all that is to be. 

I’ve come to believe it’s all about preparation, did I sufficiently feed myself with rich experiences, capacitate deeply rooted relationships, situate myself in a space that not only allowed for failure, but a graceful recovery? If so, am I prepared to rid myself of this old shell, spread my wings, and live under a whole new set of laws?

Ready or not, here it comes…don’t be caught hiding behind your laurels.

I do miss my waist. The part of my anatomy designed to clarify the top half of my body from the bottom. It not only defined my shoulders, but scaled beautifully with my derrière, allowed me to bend gracefully, wear fashionable belts, a place to rest a baby, or my hands when angry. It’s no longer there, as if a soft serve ice cream cone, I’m suddenly layered. This could be for practical purposes, such as stability, because otherwise my boobs would totally throw me off balance.

“I was never a woman who turned heads, but menopause has made me invisible, and I love being invisible. Why did I ever care if strangers thought I was pretty? Worse, why didn’t I think I was pretty at an age when everyone is pretty?” Margaret Renki

It was maybe two weeks ago, I was standing at a bar, having just ordered a glass of sauvignon blanc from the bartender, when I heard, “I like your hairstyle, it’s very attractive on you,” coming from a person standing directly behind me. This was a bit of a shock, I’m not used to compliments, especially coming from a young man.

As the bartender handed me my glass of wine, I turned around, smiled, and said, “thank you.” This is when I detected a hint of alarm, a near invisible dilation of the pupils, a slight downward shift of the chin, imperceptible raise of the brow. I’m sure the young man was not aware he was complimenting a grandma, or it could have been my imagination, who’s to say? I walked away as gracefully as possible, slightly flushed, to join my gently~aging friends on the patio.

People age, some better than others, but thank God at my age I no longer have to compare. What’s the purpose? I consider it a good day when I find my car keys, a parking space, and remember why I landed in the Target parking lot.

“I finally know the difference between pleasing and loving, obeying and respecting. It has taken me so many years to be okay with being different, and with being this alive, this intense. (xxvi)” Eve Ensler

I’m what you call a recovered enabler. Margaret Renki says, “life is full of obligations that can’t be shirked, but always there are obligations I’m not obliged to do.” I remember madly running around, delivering late papers, forgotten lunches, art projects, and gym clothes to three different schools, acting as buffer during conflicts, generously (at times begrudgingly) accommodating the demands of family and clan, bending like a pretzel to make life easier for anyone caught in the vortex of my life. I don’t miss all the noise and confusion, or the chaotic pace, because I’m busy flitting around, smelling the roses, landing on a purple hydrangea once in a while.

“Aging is not ‘lost youth’ but a new stage of opportunity and strength.” Betty Friedan

There are benefits that come with age. As Margaret Renki notes, “it’s easier to shrug off failure, missed opportunities, the unwarranted anger of others, fear of looking like a fool. A person who is not afraid of looking like a fool gets to do a lot more dancing.” Just when my wisdom and experience are no longer at odds I’m finding it difficult to curb my tongue. Gloria Steinem says women may be the one group that grows more radical with age. It’s so true. Just this morning…


Larry says, “what are you ordering now?” as the doorbell alerts us to new boxes on the front porch.

Still in my pjs, sipping coffee in bed, I answer lightly, “nothing, I’m offline, just watching the news sweetheart.”


He drags in three rather large boxes grumbling, “can we go one day without a box arriving?”

I saunter down the hall to check out my loot, giggling I say, “You’re so silly,” pressing up on my tippy toes, I give him a kiss for good measure.

Larry sits at his desk spouting, “I’m starting an Amazon Anonymous group, our motto is no boxes, we’ll take it one day at a time.”

Returning to my room I say, “don’t open them, it’ll give me something to look forward to after spin class.”

Larry speaks quietly but I hear him, “That used to be me.” 

To be loved so dearly and intently by this man has been an invaluable gift, one that increases in worth, and as the years pass has become uncommonly rare. Was it Robert Browning who said, “grow old along with me. The best is yet to be.” Larry knows exactly how I like my back rubbed, a cool room at night, my popcorn with melted butter, coffee first thing in the morning, the pace when we hike, the rhythm when we dance, the encouragement I needed to break out of my shell, and take flight. 

Don’t get me wrong, there is a flip side to long term intimacy, it comes with the territory. He knows the exact words that push my buttons (I have several), open old wounds, trigger an argument. We both do, it’s a matter of discretion, because we can choose to bring them out, or not. The art of respectful discussion remains a skill in process. Sometimes we just move on, decide to ignore those unresolvable issues, but I’ve learned without reconciliation, healing does not take place. I’m sorry might be the two most powerful words in a marriage.

“When you get to my age, you’ll really measure your success in life by how many of the people you want to have love you actually do love you…” Warren Buffett

I’ve said this before, and I’ll say it again, we all want to be known, accepted, loved and this I believe is the enormous appeal of old friends. They remember the time you overindulged on limoncello while staying at a villa in Italy, when you commandeered a dinner party with an inconsequential story, and to the annoyance of everyone repeated it several times, the perpetually dirty stove at the lake house that smokes up the kitchen, or your baseball hat phase that lasted a decade, and nonetheless they are not only forgiving, but charmed. These friends have grown old with me, as if a faded photograph I’ve grown used to, and refuse to remove from the living room wall. 

“The afternoon knows what the morning never suspected.” Robert Frost

I watch myself unfold, wondering who I am becoming, who I was meant to be? “There is a fountain of youth: it is your mind, your talents, the creativity you bring to your life and the lives of people you love. When you learn to tap this source, you will truly have defeated age,” says Sophia Loren. 

My granddaughter asked me the other day, “do those hurt Grammie?” She was referring to the wrinkles around my eyes. I said, “no sweetheart, not at all.” I’m relishing the freedom from those confining roles of parent, caregiver, volunteer extraordinaire to newly winged senior citizen, glorious, light, wrinkled, and free. 

“I’m pretty sure that eating chocolate keeps wrinkles away because I have never seen a 10 year old with a Hershey bar and crows feet.” Amy Neftzger

Writing has become one of my greatest joys. “Aging is an extraordinary process where you become the person you should have always been,” writes David Bowie. I could not have anticipated the enormous endowment of this work. Writing has given me a place to spread my wings. What I didn’t expect was the generous response, the people living in the gap with me, struggling to emerge. I realize the brevity of our existence, the precarious space between past and future, and I’m ever so appreciative of our ability to break through the chrysalis, take to the skies, endowed with wrinkles, and resplendent joy.

“A consequence of female self-love is that the woman grows convinced of social worth. Her love for her body will be unqualified, which is the basis of female identification. If a woman loves her own body, she doesn’t grudge what other women do with theirs; if she loves femaleness, she champions its rights. It’s true what they say about women: Women are insatiable. We are greedy. Our appetites do need to be controlled if things are to stay in place. If the world were ours too, if we believed we could get away with it, we would ask for more love, more sex, more money, more commitment to children, more food, more care. The force of female desire would be so great that society would truly have to reckon with what women want, in bed and in the world.” Naomi Wolf


I’m Living in the Gap, drop on by, we’ll eat some chocolate.

Anecdotes:

  • Thank you Bonny McClain for posting The Gift of Menopause by Margaret Renki, which inspired this post. (check out Bonny’s work ~ she fabulous ~ her name is linked.)
  • I’m so grateful wrinkles don’t hurt. Am I alone here?
  • “I am thinking about the way that life can be so slippery; the way that a twelve-year-old girl looking into the mirror to count freckles reaches out toward herself and that reflection has turned into that of a woman on her wedding day, righting her veil. And how, when that bride blinks, she reopens her eyes to see a frazzled young mother trying to get lipstick on straight for the parent/teacher conference that starts in three minutes. And how after that young woman bends down to retrieve the wild-haired doll her daughter has left on the bathroom floor, she rises up to a forty-seven-year-old, looking into the mirror to count age spots.” Elizabeth Berg

4 Comments

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  1. Ok,….so I read your wonderful treatise on aging, and felt that you had pretty much covered it all. Great quotes (Bowie!) Beautiful, honest, yet managing to avoid melancholy while 'Keeping on the Sunny Side.\” So I clicked the old like button on Facebook and went on my way. Not much to add… (Gail would think that this is a good thing as she feels I go off on tangents and that my writing is a tad jejune.) Then I woke up this morning at the farm, went out on the deck, and saw a beautiful Monarch flying around the milkweed Gail had planted, along with a Monarch Caterpillar eating the leaves beneath it. Insert photo here! The Monarch caterpillar's only food is the Milkweed, and the Caterpillar will likely make a cocoon near there in perfect position, so that there can be a successful Metamorphosis, as you alluded to.I took this as a sign. (Probably a reach, but nonetheless a sign.)So I dove back in to your blog.Proceed at your own risk.I chuckled when I read about the younger fellow complimenting you from behind. I suspect you did not get the memo…55-60 is the new 30-35. The fellow behind you surely did. Your date with senior status is likely a decade or 2 down the road.I love that ordering multiple boxes from Amazon is truly a sign of \”getting more radical with age.\”Read Naomi Wolf's quote with a chuckle. I will give Gail permission to ask for more of all the things she quoted, and suspect I will be shot down in flames.Liked the Faith Hill/ Tim McGraw song. Heard it a bunch in the background at work, and had not given the lyrics much thought. I hope it stays true for them, as they are acknowledged as among the most beautiful couples. Lastly, my thoughts on aging.Please let my mind stay sharp until I go.Why do we live? What do we enjoy?I love being with Gail.I love living, breathing, experiencing new things. I love seeing my children accomplish things. Grandchildren! 1 so far.And from Ecclesiastes: There is nothing better for a man, than that he should eat and drink, and that he should make his soul enjoy good in his labour.I love eating what I grew, caught or gathered. I love the miracle of a seed transforming into a fruit bearing tree. Sharing a cold beer or glass of wine with people I care about. :-)I like to exercise, so that I may be able to enjoy these things longer. Not to look better (that ship sunk a long time ago,) though I confess to a feeling of disgust as the waistline grows.And lastly, the obligatory music video. It may be more of an undertaking than you want.This song is 74-75, by a band I love named the Connell's.The song was a hit in Sweden and Norway (so what.)The video documents the band members' High school class yearbook pictures juxtaposed with updated footage in 1993.In 2015 they updated the video footage.I think it is a very poignant look at time and the aging process. It strikes a sentimental chord with me.This is the first one:https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=l-ITv4OBV9cThen the update:https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=p6l3Lh2cb_g

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  2. Okay Michael, jejune is my new favorite word du jour ~ watch for an appearance in the near future. I too am a firm believer in signs and your interpretation of the monarch and caterpillar is spot on. I'm willing to bet others also experienced a monarch or two after reading and failed to respond. It's a loss. It seems to me that as we age up we have a lot in common, love of spouses and children, welcoming grandchildren into our lives, exploring the world with a new found freedom that we didn't have while working and raising kids. Spending time in the garden (you in the fields), a love for eating (and I'm really good at it), especially when it comes to pairing wine! Haha Exercising seems to be the key to it all: continued eating, sharp mind, and a body that is capable of rigorous adventures. Hopefully many more to come! Here's to aging well! Love the 74-75 song and I believe the Swedes and Norwegians are often on the cutting edge of things! This is not a biased statement, as I am only half Swedish. Thanks for all your wonderful thoughts and observations Michael, not at all jejune, and greatly appreciated.

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