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Sometimes I look in the mirror and wonder just whom I’m looking at. The face, the body…none of it seems familiar to me. I don’t just mean the wrinkles that cross the bridge of my nose or drag down the corners of my mouth. It’s more than that. I find myself looking for recognizable signposts: the purple mark above my right knee, the scars from a childhood double-whammy of chicken pox and rubella. Getting older is scary. Good thing we don’t have to do it alone.

The hands I know, but they are my mother’s;
the square face an artifact from Germany, I think.
My hair — impossible curls after a lifetime
of lying listlessly but reliably straight.
I cannot find myself in my own face,
though I search for traces like a dog
sniffing clues. Who is this strange woman
haunting my mirror like a cautionary tale?
I have not chanted “Bloody Mary,” yet here
she is, her visage a map of days, of years.
Where was I during this time? Asleep?
But Sleeping Beauty never aged like this.
Or perhaps I was inside, cleaning house.
I hope I was. One day, my soul will rise
to meet me, as familiar as the ache
in my ankle when weather turns cold.
She will lead the stranger home.
And I will know myself at last.

I’ve just returned from a long car trip, a trip whose sole purpose seems to have been to remind me that I am old. Well, older, anyway. For instance, I remember how easy it was to genuflect when I was a child — a quick bob with one knee and right back up again. I was as bendable as new grass, as light as a reed, so thin my sister and I were not allowed to look into the windows of the local health club (out of sheer childish curiosity) because it offended those inside. How on earth, I used to think, can it be difficult to genuflect?

The words come back to haunt me as I use the pew to lever myself into and out of that once-effortless pose. It’s not so easy anymore.

It’s funny to imagine a God who is ageless. Wasn’t he my companion as a child, as a 20-something, navigating the newness of adulthood, and now an aging friend who provides a shoulder to lean on as necessary? Won’t God still be there as I totter into old age? And all the time, always, God is my friend, my compatriot, the pal I vent to when my shoulders ache and I realize that typing 100 words a minute was less a feat than a doorway to carpal tunnel. God grows old with me, yet is eternally young, ready to support the next new life and the next and the next.

My body announces itself
with pops and groans,
a one-woman band of
complaints and aggravations.
Ankle, knee, neck, feet.
Bones aren’t built to last.
They snap like chalk, crumble
to dust. My foot comes up,
senses a thousand ways to stumble.
Yet at my elbow, a light touch:
lifting. My foot comes down;
God gives me ground to stand on.
Each step’s a new wonder;
with practice, I’ll fly.

When I was a kid, time passed slowly. A single day at school — a single math class! — could drag on into eternity. Sure, some things went too quickly — Christmas, summer. But for the most part, time was inexorable: When would I finally be done with school? When would I be a grownup? For Pete’s sake, what is taking so long?

Nowadays, time flies by me in panic-inducing rushes. How is it Thursday already? What happened to October? Wait — what do you mean your little boy is a college graduate? Wasn’t he a baby last week? If I could just reach out and stop time for a minute, just a minute…!

It’s enough to give a girl vertigo. (Or, in this case, a middle-aged woman. But wasn’t I a girl just yesterday?)

A strange old woman
haunts my mirror. I do not know her.
A thief has stolen thirty years of my life.
His crime goes unpunished.
God gave me a bag of time;
I just now noticed it has been leaking.
What to do to stanch the hemorrhage?
Make a mindful moment. And another.
String them like beads. Feel them
with your fingers. Then let go.
God will catch the train as it leaps from the trestle.
On that day, there will finally be enough time.

A dear family member came by to see me the other day and we had a nice visit. But I noticed that, three or four times during our time together, she was furiously texting.

Some would be offended by someone texting while in their presence, but I’m really not offended.  I just wonder.  Where are they?

I mean, in a sense, they’re not really… anywhere.  They’re not visiting with me.  They’re not in the presence of the friend they’re texting.  It’s almost as if – for that moment, at least – they don’t really exist.  They don’t have a “present” as such, just a kind of in-between.  Not really here, but not there either.

It’s kind of how I feel about turning forty-nine years old.  Yep, today is my birthday, so of course, I’ll be sitting in front of a chocolate cake and chilling all the day long. Diets will be on hiatus, of course.  All other obligations will be on auto-pilot.  It’s going to be a “me day,” for sure!

So I hear tell that “life begins at fifty.” Well… what do I till then? I’ve got a year before life begins?  How am I gonna spend my time, waiting for life to begin? It’s like I’m in limbo!  Life is on hold till next year!  Aah!

Okay, I’m back now.  That’s just a saying, you tell me.  Well thank you.  Life begins right where you are, doesn’t it?

So now that I’ve reached this almost-milestone, part of me wants to say, “yikes!” But the truth is, getting older is a blessing.  Sure, I’d like to have more energy, but I don’t really know that I had that much energy, even in my twenties.  It seemed there was so much to be done.  So much I wanted out of life.  I didn’t realize that I had choices, and that, if I’d looked around me, I really had the whole world in front of me.

It didn’t feel that way.  It felt like I had to go, do, move, get out there, get things done, get on the right track.  It may well have all been pressure I put on myself, but I never felt relaxed and positive.  I felt stressed and my soul felt squashed.

Now that I’m older, and have effectively taken myself out of the “rat race,” I feel so much more hopeful. I get to be myself, knowing God loves me as I am and I don’t have to be anyone but me. My faith is a huge part of that sense of optimism, and I’m grateful to God every day for keeping hold of my hand. It’s been quite a journey, and looking ahead, all I see are blue skies. I’d say I’m ready for the next chapter to begin.

Have a Mary Little Christmas

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