Aside from “You’ve just won the Publisher’s Clearing House Sweepstakes,” most boomers would love to hear, “You don’t look anywhere near your age!” I, too, used to fit into that category, and for most of my life, I looked a lot younger than I really was. It was frustrating back in high school and college, when boys wouldn’t talk to me because they thought I was a little kid, and in my twenties when I started teaching and looked not-much-older then my students. But when I reached my 30s, I began to appreciate my baby looks and by 40, I prided myself on looking 10, or even 15 years younger, than I was.
Then I lost my closest friend to breast cancer when we were both 47. The loss of Miki changed a lot of things for me, and one thing it did was to change the way I saw myself in the aging process. I couldn’t bring Miki back, but I could declare that I would live for her as well as for myself. To say that Miki was full of life is an understatement. To say that she would have filled those unlived years with joy and laughter and love is a certainty. So, if she weren’t around to do it, I would be. Year after year after year.
It’s been 17 years since Miki’s death, 17 years since I have been on this earth to laugh, to experience joy, to love. To push the boundaries everyday, just as she would have. And because of that, each birthday is a joy. It’s when I declare to the universe, “Look, here’s me, ready to take on another year. Bring it on!
And another thing happened, as well, when I began to embrace each birthday. I stopped feeling flattered when people told me how young I looked. I no longer wanted to be an imitation of any age other than the age I was. If I were a powerful woman, embracing each birthday, then I would be the best example possibly of that age. I remembered back to what Gloria Steinem said on her 50th birthday, when someone told her she looked good for her age. She said, “This is what 50 looks like.” I didn’t understand back then what a huge, powerful statement that was. But I understood it after Miki died.
Now, when people tell me how young I look, instead of saying “Wow, thanks,” I said, instead, “I’m (insert age). Just tell me I’m a beautiful, vibrant example of that age.”
Most people get it, and they shake their heads, smiling, thinking about what that means. Some obviously don’t get it. I think they feel that they just gave me a beautiful gift and I declined it. That’s OK. I gave a gift to myself: immense pride in who and what I am. I am a beautiful, powerful, and visionary 64 year old. And that is what my 64 looks like.