As I look at my graying muzzle in the mirror I wonder if I’m at a crossroad. There was a time when people guessed my age to be much younger than I was, but as I enter my 40s it’s looking less and less like I belong on the set of “21 Jump Street.”
Thanks to my flat caps and round wire-rimmed spectacles, I’m looking more like I belong amongst my favorite Moveable Feast writers from the 40s: Hemingway, William Carlos Williams, Samuel Beckett, Langston Hughes.
This metamorphosis wasn’t a conscious change on my part. I just looked in the mirror one day and it was like Eugene O’Neill was looking back at me.
If I were to shave my beard and get different glasses, I would look younger. But what would be the point? Taking it a step further, wouldn’t putting energy into looking younger eventually be to my detriment?
As Paul McCartney dyes his hair and continues to shout, “She was just 17 and you know what I mean” into microphones around the world he is looking sillier and sillier.
Giving him the benefit of the doubt, I would bet that my favorite remaining Beatle is feeling immense pressure to fend off the flow of time.
I’ve had my own Peter Pan complex through the years. I thought snow on the roof meant a brittle mind, so I fought against the idea of aging.
Enter Tom Waits, a throwback crooner in a porkpie hat who embraces all things old. To hear him sing “you’ll have a head start if you are among the very young at heart” is a blessing and a curse.
The snarl and crack of his voice illustrates all too well that none of us are going to get out of this world alive. But beyond the deterioration is something else—a hint of the light coming through the cracks.
Getting to the light in this case seems to mean accepting my fate. If I can’t turn back the clock, there really is no crossroad—just the chance to compose myself, get my bearings and proceed with dignity.
In his autobiography Steve Martin credited Johnny Carson’s longevity to a kind of dignity that one gets from knowing and accepting who they are. It’s what let Carson go gracefully through the years.
Have you seen Sarah Jessica Parker, Bruce Jenner, Madonna or Mariah Carey lately? You can only keep things together for so long.
Getting back to the Tom Waits example, I used to think the man who intentionally inserted the sound of vinyl’s pops and clicks into his CDs was the farthest thing from my Peter Pan vantage point.
Now with the advantage of age-given wisdom, I see him singing “Young At Heart” in a whole new way and I am thinking that spackling your face and dying your hair not only eats away at your time and money, it also gnaws away at your psychology.
Mental health professionals will tell you that giving mental energy to things you can’t change is a sure path to depression. Isn’t holding yourself to an artificial ideal doing exactly that?
Shouldn’t McCartney look more like a gray bard who has weathered a life on the road by now? Doesn’t he deserve the respect that would come with that?
We do have to pay the price of time, but who defines what that price should be?