In earlier years and like so many of you, I fondly remember the goal of getting to the "next number" on the ladder of life. I remember being ten years old and wanting oh-so-much to be twelve years old because twelve meant the "sophistication" of junior high school. In my eyes, changing from one class to another, wearing high heels to school (that's how we dressed for school in those days) and the "graduation" from wearing knee socks to wearing pantyhose (ala' every young girl's idol, Marcia Brady) was the pinnacle of "tween-dom". I was even permitted to wear light pink lip gloss and the tiniest touch of barely-there eye shadow. At long last, I had arrived!
However, twelve gets old very quickly when thirteen is just around the corner. Turning thirteen years of age meant I could finally refer to myself using that hallowed word... teenager. The thank-you notes after my Bat Mitzvah were barely written when I was itching to turn sixteen -- who wouldn't be excited to receive their driver's license, have a huge Sweet Sixteen party (by 1970's standards anyway) and finally go on "car dates". Once the novelty of being sixteen wore off (after about a month), eighteen years couldn't come soon enough. Graduation, moving out on my own, my first real job, voting for the very first time...eighteen meant adulthood and I was so eager to take a great big bite out of life.
Until it was time to turn the "magical" age of twenty-one. Enough said there.
We have all spent a good chunk of our lives longing for that "next number"; a number that was synonymous with a new liberty or goal achievement and with dreams of one sort or another coming true. It was like crossing an exciting new finish line over and over again.
Then all of a sudden...
Out of nowhere and after years of wanting to be "old enough", everyone around me suddenly started complaining about being too old. Now I do admit that there are some things for which I am definitely beyond "the age ". My "dancing-till-dawn" days have since become "dinner-and-a-martini" days and I do envy my daughters their seemingly never-ending energy (once a part of my youth too).
However, the happy fact is that we are staying younger longer, both inside and out. Thanks to an increased awareness in taking care of our health (as well as the modern technology taking place at department store cosmetic counters), we are staying younger in outer appearance, inner health and overall attitude. We are going to the gym, pursuing whatever passions we choose and living physically and emotionally active and fulfilling lives well into later years. Just one look at reruns from the earlier years of television demonstrates that people in their fifties, sixties and beyond were very different from those of us in these age groups today. We of the baby boomer era have made huge strides in crushing previous stereotypes of an "older" generation; setting a wonderful example for the generations who will follow.
I then find it amusing when those around me -- from relatives to friends to people on the street -- spend so much time complaining about their particular "number", that they forget to have an attitude of gratitude for actually being here to experience whatever number they happen to be at the moment.
In all honesty, I have never walked around bemoaning how old I am -- but if I ever did, those complaints certainly would have stopped immediately upon experiencing widowhood. Most interesting is that among all of the people who complain about their age, the one group from whom I have never heard any complaints about age are those in the widowed community. Not one. No one who has been personally touched by widowhood has ever whined to me about how old they are. The reason is pretty simple -- the widowed do not grumble about their chronological age because everyone in the widowed community has had a front row seat to the alternative to seeing one more candle on a birthday cake.
That alternative...is death.
We would all have given anything to have had our spouses live longer lives. We would have happily put more candles on their birthday cakes. We would have even gladly listened to them gripe about being another year older.
In short, we have all seen spouses robbed of a life deserved.
When anyone complains to me about how old they are, I will always reply, "Consider the alternative"...because like millions of others, I have seen that alternative up-close. Begging the pardon of the age-complainers but I will take next year's birthday candle any day over the alternatives that so many of us have witnessed.
Now, don't confuse complaints about age with complaints about aging. I may not complain about my "number", but I do shamelessly fight the actual aging process with great gusto. Any food, cosmetic, exercise, product or Magic Du Jour that starts with the words "anti-aging" (and stops short of needles and knives) is both fine with me and usually on a shopping list. Admittedly, while putting myself together does take a little more effort than it did in years past, I nonetheless make that effort -- and I always will.
Do I complain about the aging process? Perhaps a little. Will I ever complain about my actual age? Never.
Of course, I would in no way wish the tragedy of widowhood on anyone, be they friend or foe. However, it would certainly provide a healthy dose of perspective if people could both learn and enjoy the appreciation for life that the widowed community has from their point of view.
So while I may moan about the new wrinkle on my face that was once a cute dimple or the aches and pains that growing older brings, I will never complain about my "number". I will celebrate the fact that I am here. I will work with joy, love to capacity and wear whatever I damn well please.
(I couldn't resist that last one).
As the late and beloved television host, Sheriff John used to sing to his young audiences every day at lunchtime, put another candle on my (great big, red velvet, cream-cheese-frosted, insanely-high-calorie) birthday cake... PLEASE. I further invite and encourage you to do the same with unabashed joy and a heart filled with gratitude -- because birthdays are not about becoming a year older.
Birthdays are about celebrating a LIFE.
Carole's latest book, "Happily Even After..." is the winner of the prestigious Books for a Better Life Award. For more information about Carole Brody Fleet and Widows Wear Stilettos, please visit www.widowswearstilettos.com
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