Growing Older With Grace by Michelle Jones

I have a beautiful amazing friend named Grace who woke up this morning and felt every one of her 40-something years.  Today she is more than a little aware of her grey hair, the baby fat, and the aches and pains that weren’t there not so long ago.

She has decided that she doesn’t want to “go down without a fight.”  She is sorry that she took her beauty, youth, and health for granted.  Today she could use some encouragement.  I’m posting my response to her and to you too if you are finding it a challenge to grow old gracefully.

My darling sister,

Who decided that growing old “gracefully”–or doing anything gracefully for that matter–meant taking what comes without reaction or response? I am 49 as of a week and a half ago. I decided that Graceful is the thing that needs reshaping if I’m going to leave my 40s and enter the second half of my life with it.

Like you, I thought I’d just accept my grey hair as it came. However, it did not get the memo that I would not be ready for it until I was closer to 60. Until then, it is supposed to come slowly and discreetly. It doesn’t, so it must be punished with invisibility, because the rest of me is not finished with the black hair. The hair does not decide my age. I do.

As for the excess fat that shows up in the worst places, not a problem. We always say, “If I knew then what I know now…”  If I knew then that my body would turn on me like this, I would have been more disciplined about exercising, right? Okay, you know now what you didn’t know then. Why not do now what you didn’t do then?  Tell your body who is the boss of whom. I promise it will not always be easy, but Grace, we are tougher, wiser, and more determined than we were when we were younger, aren’t we? If we knew then what we know now, it just wouldn’t have been fair to be that fabulous! Balance…

What we don’t have now is nothing compared to what we didn’t have then. Youth is supposed to be taken for granted.  If it isn’t, then we’re just old people walking around in young bodies.  Where’s the fun and extravagance in that?

Society calls us “women of a certain age” because of our years. But I realize that I am also a woman of a certain age because there are some things I know now that I only suspected or hoped for when I was young. I am certain of the substance of my value, not just in this world, but to God, and to others. I am certain that I am strong and capable of loving the way I want to be loved.  I am certain that the truth is what IS, not what people tell me it is, or what I may feel in a given moment, or what I regret.  I am certain that these years on me are a good thing.  I wouldn’t trade what I’m certain of now for all the elastic skin and perky boobs in the world!

Recently I started working out because I decided I wasn’t going to “turn” 50 next year.  I’m going to ROCK it.  50 is going to wake up on March 22, 2011 and say, “Damn! I am FOINE!! I didn’t know I could look like this.  Thanks Michelle!”  And happily, my body is responding because I AM THE BOSS OF IT, no matter what I feel like when I wake up in the morning.

So the other day, I was walking into my dressing area like I always do before a shower. I got a look at myself in the mirror naked.  There is a beauty that happens in a healthy, fit woman as she ages that is more impressive than anything plastic surgery can accomplish.  When we take care of them, our bodies become the stewards of our beauty and not the other way around.

Get rid of everything that gets in the way of the beauty that your body wants to show you and you will be fine.  I’m saying this as a woman at the end of her 40s looking forward to rocking 50 next year on a cruise ship in a smokin’ hot swimsuit. I’m talking as a woman who has to fight off 30-something men these days.  I’m talking as a woman of a certain age whose body is certain about who’s in charge of it finally.

You don’t have to fight age. Just tell it what it’s supposed to look like, and watch it behave.  It’s different for every woman. What is it for you? I can’t wait to see.

I love you,

Michelle

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Father Figure by Michelle Jones

My dad was not a nice man.  In fact, sometimes he could be a real jerk.  I don’t think he liked me much.  If he ever smiled at me, I didn’t know it.  This morning though, I was really grateful for him.  He showed up in one of those impish flashes of memory that dart from one corner of your mind to another.  It was an odd appearance at an odd moment, or so I thought.

I was working out for the first time in a very long while; my thighs muscling the rest of me nowhere fast on the elliptical.  Ten minutes in I felt a hundred years old. The iPod was pouring Justin Timberlake into my head, but I couldn’t hear JT over my labored breathing.  I gulped down another mouthful of water.  It seemed to evaporate as soon as it hit my throat.  Eyes closed, I tried to “see” the songs, but the pictures didn’t stay long before my body reminded me that I…AM…DYING!

The only thing I could think about without interruption was quitting.  My feet, legs, arms, lungs and heart, even my bladder (all of a sudden the water’s got something to say!), every part of me was whining now.  They were all saying the same thing:  “This is haaarrrrd!”

“IT’S SUPPOSED TO BE HARD!”

The voice in my head cut through everything I was thinking and feeling.  It was my own voice, but not the one I have now.

I was 8 years old, maybe 40 pounds if you put rocks in my pockets, wild haired and energetic, with a mouth as big as I was small.  My tiny balled up fists were perched on bony hips, and wide eyes filled up with angry tears too stubborn to fall.

I was yelling up at my father whose face was a strange mixture of annoyance and shock.  He was good at shutting me down with an insult.  It was the quickest way to get me to leave him alone.  That day I had asked for help with my math.  My father was very smart, but he had no patience.  Sometimes he seemed to me a wonderful, treasure-filled house that had no doors and no windows.  There was just no way in.

He tried explaining the work for a few minutes, and then gave up, but I kept asking questions because I hadn’t given up.  Finally, he did what he always did when he wanted me to go away.  He said something mean.

He told me the problem was not the math.  It was me.  The answers were there, he said, but I was too stupid to see them.  Being stupid was like being nothing to my dad.  His mind was the only thing he’d let you admire about him.  It was also his weapon of choice.

Stupid.

If my father had chosen to punch me in the gut with all his strength, I would have had more air left in me than I did in that moment.  I couldn’t breathe.  I wasn’t sure I wanted to.

Stupid.

He stood there, watching me the way you watch a building demolition.  First you hear the muffled sound of explosions from inside the structure.  Then you wait, because you know that the real beauty is in how it crumbles—without noise or a lot of drama, neatly and completely.  He was waiting.  We both were.

Stupid?

That word whirled around dangerously in my head, smashing into everything I knew about myself, until it crashed quite unexpectedly into something big and immovable.  My father’s words had collided with Truth.

I almost didn’t recognize it.  I was so used to believing the smartest man I knew.  I had never disagreed with him before.  But here was something so simple and right, that as soon as I saw it, I understood it and it became a part of me.  When I looked up at my dad, I was pissed.

“This is 5th grade math!  I’m in the 3rd grade!  IT’S SUPPOSED TO BE HARD!”

It was the only argument I remember having with him.  It was the last time I asked him for help.  It was the first time I knew I was smart.  And it was the first time I knew that it was okay for something to be hard.

I finished my workout today without quitting.  It occurred to me that I spend way too much time in this life trying to take the “work” out of my workouts. There is value in knowing something is hard and doing it anyway.  The fact that something is hard doesn’t mean you’re nothing.  It means you’re at the edge of yourself.  It’s an invitation to become something more.

Thanks Dad.

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