Artist: Leigh Matson
When I woke this morning and looked in the mirror, a little voice inside me said, ‘You look pretty this morning’. I had a quiet chuckle to myself. Is that even possible as an older woman? Was it the new pink pyjama top or the tousled hair over my forehead or was it an emanation that was coming from within? I doubt that I would have said that to myself when I was younger. How could I be feeling that now at the age of 75?
For me, the challenges of ageing have come with accepting the limitations of my body and letting go of the stubborn independence I have held onto over the years. It has required a graceful surrender.
There is a lot I can no longer do, especially in relation to physical strength and eyesight, both of which are diminishing. The beauty of this is in surrendering to the reality of this vulnerability and calling on others who are younger, stronger and have better eyesight, to step in and do things for me. Sometimes this entails paying someone, but it is always money well spent, and the surrender of being able to step aside and let others ‘do’ is very empowering. I know that sounds like a contradiction, but the empowerment comes about because of the strength there is in sensitivity and vulnerability. This is something I’m learning. It means letting go of hardness and softening. It is very beautiful to feel this deeply in my body and, in turn, I feel more beautiful and graceful in myself. Beauty clearly is from within, a tough maxim to accept when we’re younger when everything is telling us it’s about image and how we look on the outside.
What I’ve noticed with this acceptance of my limitations is that I am more open to sharing conversation with younger people who are providing a service for me so that the whole exchange is a joyful experience for both them and myself. It gives me enormous pleasure and joy to appreciate what they have to offer and to connect with them in equality and share my appreciation.
With years of experience behind us, there is an ease and a joy with work as our understanding of what we have to offer is recognised by ourselves, embodied, and appreciated. Work becomes about our relationships with others more than the detail, the product, the output, the skills, or the knowledge of what we do. That aspect of work comes naturally and simply flows. The joy is in connecting with others and is a beautiful enrichment to our work.
This is how I am now, but it wasn’t always like this. Getting to this point of acceptance involved a journey of mumbling and grumbling about my limitations, frustration with painful arthritic joints and weakened use of my hands (losing my grip), loss of muscle tone, and most especially diminishing eyesight that cataract surgery and glasses have certainly helped to rectify but have never returned the same clarity and sharpness of my former youthful vision.
Not being able to open jars easily due to loss of strength in my hands has been a big one, and the arthritic pain is always there. I watched my mother lose strength in her hands and now I understand how hard this can be. I use gadgets to help me open jars and tins and I hand bottles of water back across the counter to the person who served me to ‘open the bottle please’ before I leave the shop!
It’s a big thing to ask for help when you have been independent and capable for all your life. This is especially so, I feel, for single women like myself. Without a partner, we’ve learned to do everything from small jobs around the house to paying bills, applying for mortgages, and a whole lot more. A couple of years ago I very deliberately gave away my drill and tools. It was time to let go of trying to do everything myself! But I have to admit, there is one thing I haven’t let go of yet, and that is moving furniture around when I want to rearrange things. This has become very evident as I recently moved house and am still finding a place for everything. However, the time will come, no doubt very soon!
It is easy to put limitations on ourselves with our thoughts. This is where we can start to doubt ourselves as being ‘not good enough’ or feeling as an older person that we are invisible, giving emphasis to youth and youthful confidence at the expense of our own self-worth. This happened to me at a certain point until I recognised that I had brought this on myself and was diminishing my value. We do become invisible if we feel unworthy; our body and demeanour contract and become smaller and we are literally not seen. It tells me that what people respond to is vibration. They don’t always consciously know this, but if you shut down your vibrational light then you won’t be seen. The brighter lights will be the ones that get attention.
I recently read an article that reported that one of the most damaging forms of ageism can come from ourselves. It is deeply saddening to reflect on how we can be ‘our own worst enemy’ in this regard. I’ve observed that it frequently happens from a young age, due to the competitive culture of education as well as comparison and competition within the family. The seed has been sown and is exacerbated when we are older as we experience the loss of physical strength that comes with ageing. This can diminish our confidence if we let it.
If we hold ourselves as worthy and able to take our place in the world alongside others in equality, then ageism has no place. By accepting ourselves as equal to others, we offer that equality to them. It becomes reciprocal.
Recognising and accepting our limitations without frustration, resentment or sadness allows us to be sensitive and vulnerable. It is a process of graceful surrender. This becomes our strength and the stepping off point to banish ageism from others and ourselves on our ageing journey. Who would have guessed there was strength in sensitivity and vulnerability? I’ve learned there is, and that sensitivity and vulnerability allows the beauty within to shine through on the outside.
Judy F, Australia
If you enjoyed this article you may also like to read:
Easy on the Eye – Self-worth and Damning Messages