First published in the NZ Woman’s Weekly 25.7.22
Today’s visit to the petrol station was something of an emotional rollercoaster. On the downside, I was buying gas. Wow. It’s been a while and at first I thought the pump was broken – the number of litres was rising at the usual rate but those dollar figures were spinning at quite a different speed. My next car is definitely going to be one of those ones you plug in.
Clearly, I wasn’t the only one reeling – on my way out of the shop a young man got himself quite tangled up in me, apologising with, “Sorry, miss!” several times. “Miss”. What a delight. I mean, he totally meant it in a school ma’am way, and to be fair he barely saw my face because his elbow was mostly in it, and it is easy to assume based on my height that I might be twelve.
Still. “Miss”. There’s a lightness about it, a hint of respect, of being looked up to, of being someone you need to please. I like this better than the man last week who kept calling me “dear” throughout our interaction. In my mind, “dear” automatically brings with it a prefix of “old”. Which I am – older, anyway – but I’d prefer my chats with strangers to not contain traces of, “I’ve made an assessment of your years spent on the planet and years remaining, and it looks like the scales are very much tilted in the wrong direction, dear”.
It happens throughout your life, this thing of being placed in a category that might jar, of being seen from the outside in a way that’s out of step with how you feel.
There will be loads of these tiny shocks – many of them good, like someone noting you have grown taller, or blossomed, or are smart and adept at a thing you do. Lots of times in your life you will internally reconstruct the picture you have of yourself based on new information. But the little jolts that suggest you are on any kind of downward slope take a bit of processing.
Rejecting outside views is always an option. I refuse to be told age precludes me from doing anything I want to do if it’s on the basis I might look silly. Riding rollercoasters, telling jokes in pubs, crawling through the meerkat tunnels at Auckland Zoo are still very much on the list of things I do.
A friend who I think of as 22 but who is probably 35 went to the barber recently and was offered an eyebrow trim, and Richard says he knew this meant he was getting old. Another friend who is a couple of years ahead of me and therefore quite aged told me about visiting a fancy department store once and asking the young assistant about anti-aging face cream, only to be told sincerely, “Oh, no, it’s much too late for that!”
What I’m learning to do is to celebrate that there are fewer years ahead than behind by never saving anything for “later” or “for best”. Not shoes, not china, not linen, not coats. In fact, the more expensive – or more precious – it is, the more we should give it daily use. My cupboards contain beautiful things that the women in my family saved for Sundays, and I am bringing them out any day of the week – a dish, some spoons, a gold locket – and I can feel in my lovely old bones how very much this pleases them.