I remember when I was younger, my mother used to comment on her hands (a lot). Always saying how “old” they looked. Another of her favorites was “You can always tell a woman’s age by her hands.”
With my mom now fully in the throws of her dementia (she’s late stage 6, early stage 7 (and there are only 7 stages)), she’s still concerned with her hands and how they look. She points at them, at the various flaws she sees and makes a "yuck" face.
I have a gorgeous and very dear friend who LOVES jewelry and at her age, in the mid 60s, she refuses to wear her rings because it calls attention to her aging hands. I believe this assessment is rooted in the generation in which my friend and mom were raised.
I believe this because when I see their hands, I don’t think age, I think wisdom.
This dear friend also sings in her community choir. Each spring and winter season there is a concert. I always attend and I always bring my daughters.
The concerts are wonderful. Even more wonderful than the concerts, are the choir members and the musicians. These humans have lived full lives. What I see when I am in that room and they are all on stage is YEARS of collective wisdom.
I see the stories of their lives written on their faces. I hear the power of their wisdom as it resonates in their voices as they sing. I witness their joy and heartache as songs pull different emotions; reflective of the stories from their lifetimes. I feel their understanding. I honor their journeys to the moment.
I feel blessed to be in witness and a recipient of this beauty; this gift.
One of my most prominent memories when I was pregnant with my first daughter was the freedom to wear what felt good to me. I’ve always been rather petite, albeit athletically built. It was different to feel the weight and roundness of my pregnant body. Each day I would dress, first and foremost for comfort. The last thing I thought about was my “presentation” or how I looked.
It was revolutionarily freeing.
For the first time in my life, I had ZERO control over what my body looked like and I embraced it fully. I reveled in my denim skirts with elastic waist bands, tightly fitted shirts stretched over my proudly protruding belly and my cowboy boots because it felt good to contain my swollen ankles.
I felt zero shame and a significant amount of fascination in every ounce of my body simply because my focus was on growing a human being inside of me. (Two kids later, this concept still blows me away.)
When I am in that concert hall, listening to my beloved friend and her fellow choir singers doing their thing, I am again, gifted with the same freedom; this time from outside of myself. The freedom to pursue joy and comfort.
This is the dream I have always had for my parents. To feel the freedom to embrace and share their wisdom and life experiences. To revel in their collective and individual journeys. To throw caution to the wind and explore the things they never gave themselves permission to do. To stop holding back because they were not “qualified” by society standards or it wasn’t an “appropriate” thing to do.
Their current reality however, is different.
My parents are, quite simply (at the moment), lacking reasons to celebrate.
Their “golden” years are anything but. Instead, in a recent conversation, my dad called them the “rusty” years.
This rust has eaten at Mom’s brain leaving her unable to talk or speak a complete thought. Knowing that I am her baby, as indicated by pointing at me and rocking her arms cradled back and forth, but unable to speak my name.
The rust has eaten at Dad’s lungs rendering breathing and processing oxygen a significantly difficult task.
This rust is now eating at their life savings because of the medical help my mom needs just to be safe.
My entire family is working diligently to find a way to help them restore their joy and freedom, their stimulation and comfort; simple things their illness has robbed from them.
These are basics; basics that a fully functioning human being takes completely for granted. There’s another quote that comes to mind as I type the last sentence: “Youth is wasted on the young.”
I don’t agree that it’s wasted. I do agree that at some point in our lives we will take advantage of our precious human bodies. We will drink too much and eat foods that do not serve our systems. We will deprive our bodies of sleep, perhaps we will add a toxicity to its system that it tries diligently to work through as to not harm us permanently.
Your healthy body is a gift.
Your joy, access to joy and power to create joy, is a gift.
Your youth (regardless of your age) is a gift.
My advice? Do not squander these gifts. Do not take them for granted. USE them to create the foundation of the life that will serve you late into your years. Drop the need to please. Choose what feels best to you. Embrace joy and freedom.
At the end of your days, let your hands be a statement of the work you’ve done to leave the world a better place than when you entered it.
Be proud of the story that your hands will tell because someone like me, who is watching you, will be inspired and honored to learn from what you’ve done in your lifetime. It doesn’t have to be extravagant. It doesn’t have to be amazing.
I pray only that your stories are authentic to you and that you have the mindfulness to value them for the wisdom they have the power to impart to others.