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Monday, January 10, 2011

Then and Now

Regardless of the state of our eyesight, as middle age settles in, it is human nature that rather than seeing what stares back at us from the mirror, our vision tends to blur.  I am nearsighted, terribly so, but the image I perceive isn’t caused by failing corrective lenses; it’s more as a result of “wishful seeing.”

Long ago my father said to me: “The problem about getting older is that your mind feels the same as it did when you were young. Then you look in the mirror.” Heeding his words, I try not to look too hard, often imaging myself the way I used to look, until once in a while the reflection startles me. In my brain, I feel about 29 or so. When I focused on the looking glass though, it communicates that I am slightly more mature.

Realization of creeping years hit slowly, starting with the time I was a guest for my niece's, elementary school show-and-tell project. She's my brother’s daughter, has the first and last name I used growing up, lives in the same house I did, and that year, was taught by the teacher I’d had in the fifth grade. It seemed like a fun story to tell. She invited me to visit the class and I brought a picture of myself when I was her age. After my photo traveled from student to student, one worried little guy raised his hand and asked the teacher, “Does this mean when we grow up we will all look different?” I swallowed hard.

That was something like thirteen years ago, and back then, I didn’t feel particularly “different.” Now, when my daughter teases me about my flabby chin and wobbly arms, or my gray roots start to show, sometimes I do—which makes me all the more grateful for what happened on Saturday at the cheese shop.

Let me set this up by saying that I’m not at my most, well, attractive, when working there. Hats are not a bit flattering on my small head, yet health codes requires me to wear one. I sport a pair of faded, washed and re-washed blue jeans because I don’t want grease marks on more than one pair of pants. I dress in my oldest, worn-out tops and cover the whole ensemble with an apron that early in the day becomes stained from stacking and slicing artisan meats.

In addition, that morning I was poking around before leaving the house and forgot to put on make up to cover my cheeks that glow fluorescent red due to an annoying skin condition. Back in the day, I wore contact lenses exclusively. Several years ago my eyes rebelled so it's been glasses ever since and sorry to say, there's more than a  few additional pounds on my frame than when I actually was 29.  Let’s just say that on Saturday; yup, I looked different.

Which is why I was delighted when a woman who grew up in my hometown, but whom I have not seen since graduating from high school, entered the shop for the first time. As this unfamiliar person approached me, I greeted her like any other customer, then gave a double-take as she marched right over, peered at me and asked “Liza?” I’m not sure who was more excited when I recognized her right back.

Every ache and pain as well as that rotten bathroom mirror confirm that I’ve been around for a while. Saturday, though, it was a relief to know that in spite of all my physical “experience,” a shadow of the original me still peeks out.

16 comments:

Bish Denham said...

Oh I understand this so well! Beautifully told. I was very lucky growing up. There were many women in various stages of aging who, without realizing it, taught me how to grow older with some semblance of grace. The hardest part is that feeling of being younger inside and the body just not able to do what it once did. My mother talked about it too when she was in her 80's.

Colette said...

Liza, I find that most people (my age) that I haven't seen in years actually look much better than I expect them to -- and their essence still shines through!

Robyn Campbell said...

Man you and your niece are together, yet apart. The same with my sister and I. My siblings were all grown before I came along.

But now that I'm old (or so it feels like), they're older. :)

Have you seen Meg Ryan? The actress? All that plastic surgery made her look exactly that. Plastic.

And I am thankful you saw the shadow of the original you. But you know what? The now you is beautiful, too. :)

Wine and Words said...

It's tough, to feel young and be unpleasantly reminded you are anything but when consulting a mirror. I like your idea of looking less. Instead of looking AT the wrinkles, perhaps I'll look INTO the eyes. They are as yet unchanged. Still brown. Still clear. Or is that my faded eyesight lying ;)

jbchicoine said...

I love the way you lead into your posts...it's a fun journey reading from the beginning to a satisfying end. Somehow you always manage to write about some universal topic that most can relate to...

Sharon said...

Lovely reminder that growing older doesn't change our essence. But, oh how it changes other parts of us. I often wonder how my mother gets directly in front of me every time I look in the mirror! Wonderful post. Thanks.

Anne Gallagher said...

Unfortunately I've not aged well. Having a baby late in life tends to make things that should wait to fall, fall faster.

I know when I look in the mirror I think I'm still 35. When the aging person looks back, I can't help but think I've been abducted by aliens.

EmptyNester said...

Very nicely written! Loved it.

glnroz said...

I have earned every gray hair and change..lol..I am lucky that my drivers lisc still knows who I am...

Erin MacPherson said...

HI Liza- I was at the doctor's office today (pregnancy check) and they kept referring to me as an "old mother" (I'm 33) and I wanted to be like "WAIT?! I'm not OLD! I'm so young!". Your post made me laugh... I think no matter how old I get, I"m going to think I'm young.

Robin said...

As always, enjoyed this right up to the end. Reminded me of the last time I went to a college reuinion, which is actually a long time ago. i remember studying myself thoroughly in the mirror and thinking that I hadn't changed so much. I even thought to myself i still looked "college-aged" and could possibly be mistaken for a student. Must have been my 10 year reunion. However, when I got there and saw the actual students walking around, I thought to myself, "OMG, they are BABIES." And that is when I knew I wasn't going to be mistaken for a student! LOL. The only one who thought I looked like a student was me!!! And that was only until I got on campus. However, there will always be the "real you" still in there no matter how old you get.

Love your story. xoxoxo

WritingNut said...

Very nicely written Liza and a wonderful reminder :)

Elana Johnson said...

What a great post. We really are who we are, all life long.

Jan Morrison said...

Wonderful story! Your essence is what real people respond to like in The Velveteen Rabbit.
love it.

Tabitha Bird said...

:) Love that!

I wonder about getting older. I hope I cope alight with it. Right now I am liking being in my early thirties. Shame it can;t last forever.

Helen Ginger said...

How fun! That must have been a boost to your spirit. I'm not sure I would recognize anyone from high school anymore. And as to them recognizing me - no way! I totally identify with your post.