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  • Writer's pictureMatilda Butler

Inspiration Contest: Silver Winner

We hope you take to heart Constance Lieber's message:


"You are allowed to look the age you are...or the age you wish to be."

 

I'M NOT OLD -- ARE YOU?

by Constance Lieber


What Age?

Following the Japanese tradition, I have long changed my age on January 1st rather than waiting until my birthday in June. That gives me a chance to get used to my age before I have no choice but to be that year older.


I didn’t fret when I turned 40. I wasn’t unduly bothered when I turned 50. I could even face being 60 with equanimity. But, with 70 looming, I am upset. Now I must admit to being “old.”



Signs of Age

I have watched my hair fade from red to blond. I now confess that many of the spots on my face aren’t freckles; they are, in fact, “age spots.” And sadly, I must echo Bill Bryson and lament that any dementia that may plague me is not “early,” but has arrived right on time.


I might choose to follow the example of a famous actress (the name escapes me) who was being interviewed: “Ms. X, you say that you are 45, yet your daughter is 38. How can that be?” She breezily tossed her head and said, “She lives her life; I live mine.”


Forty-five was not a good age for me. If asked I’d back it up to 42. Yes! So what if my oldest child is 44. She can keep my secret.



Searching for the Fountain of Youth

What is it about aging that sends many of us searching for a good plastic surgeon, the perfect hair dye, the latest in cosmetics, and clothing that hides the extra pounds? Are we trying to look like our daughter’s sister? Before we know it, we have embraced the eternal search for the Fountain of Youth.


In the fifth century BCE, Herodotus was already telling the story of a fountain of special water which granted remarkable longevity.


In various Islamic traditions, Al-Khir is considered a messenger or a prophet who guards the sea and teaches knowledge. He is mentioned in the Quran, although not by name. It is believed that he looks like a young man, but with a long white beard, neatly combining youth and age. The stories about Al-Khir have become blurred with the tale of Alexander the Great, who with his servant, Al-Khir, crossed the Land of Darkness while searching for a restorative spring.


More well-known is the story of Ponce de León and his search for the Fountain of Youth, which appears in many records from the mid-1500s and even in a short story by Nathaniel Hawthorne, “Dr. Heidegger’s Experiment.”


Well, that’s not a secret. We all know where the Fountain of Youth is. Take Highway 1 north from Miami, Florida, and drive for about five hours. Exit onto Florida State Highway A1A, drive three blocks and turn right onto Magnolia Avenue. Drive another three blocks and you are there: The Fountain of Youth Archaeological Park in St. Augustine.


Under Live Oak trees dripping with Spanish Moss (and red ants) is the Fountain. For $20, you can enter the park and drink a cup of water claimed to be imbued with life-preserving – even youth-rejuvenating – magic. Then, in that perverse way we humans have of ignoring all logic, spend the afternoon at Ponte Vedra Beach to work on your suntan — adding years to your appearance and the possibility of a future skin cancer diagnosis.


De León supposedly landed in 1513 where today’s park is located. It took a while for the entrepreneurial spirit to establish itself, but tourists have been coming to St. Augustine to drink a five-cent paper cup of liquid alchemy since 1868. The park is garish and loud and crowded. Get in line for your sip and pay the now $20 fee for youthfulness.


New Fountain of Youth

Botox is, I suppose, today’s equivalent of the Fountain of Youth. The main difference is that Botox actually can erase signs of aging. You end up looking ageless but are also sentenced to an expressionless face. Well, that’s Karma. It was, after all, those expressions you can no longer reproduce – laughs, scowls, frowns, pursed lips, squinting eyes – that caused all the facial lines you needed Botox to erase.



Old Across Time and Within Time

The definition of “old” is not stable. It changes with time and among individuals and within cultures. My paternal grandmother looked like an old woman at 50. She wore shapeless cotton house-dresses with an apron. She tinted her hair pink, blue, or lavender, depending upon her whim. That was the norm in 1963.


However, my maternal grandmother, her contemporary, refused to comply with that norm. She wore fashionable dresses that showed off her tiny waist and dyed her hair a glamorous blond. I remember, as a teenager, going to fancy restaurants with her. Several rum and cokes into the evening, she became garrulous and overly friendly. When she began handing out her phone number to male diners, I would beg her to take me home claiming I was tired. I was the old woman in our duo; she had grabbed the star that kept her mind and her behavior young.


Today it is even easier, as well as being socially acceptable, to choose your own illusion. Botox and liposuction and hair dye can carve years or decades off your age. My 42-year-old daughter, a dark brunette, started turning gray a few years ago and began coloring her hair.


One friend of mine, conversely, went totally gray in her twenties and instead of dying her hair, she embraced her new look. Another friend of mine nailed the subject: “You are allowed to look the age you are.” (Or the age you wish to be.)


No Matter My Age…I’m Not Old

Yes, you are. Yes, I am. Age 70. Come! I’m ready for you. But I still won’t be old!


 

Consider Constance Lieber's message:


"You are allowed to look the age you are...or the age you wish to be."


About Constance Lieber:

I have had a long career in historical writing. My biography of the first female state senator (1896), Dr. Martha Hughes Cannon: Suffragist, Senator, Plural Wife, was published by Signature Books in 2022. Currently, I focus on writing travel and personal essays. I have a PhD in Languages and Literature and speak six languages with varying degrees of fluency: English, German, Swiss-German, French, Polish, and Mandarin. My day job is copy-editor. When I’m not trying to decide between a comma and a semi-colon, I like to take my credit card shopping.

 

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A Sense of Purpose

Mairi Neil


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by Sara Etgen-Baker


 



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5 Comments

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Guest
Mar 03
Rated 5 out of 5 stars.

Every time I get one of your missiles, I think of NCS. You are the only woman I know that left Oklahoma. And most of all: you gained a sense of humor.

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annjbennett
May 25, 2023
Rated 5 out of 5 stars.

Thanks for your inspirational anecdotes about aging - what an interesting process it is, for sure! Fun to see someone my age embracing life and not worrying about the actual number...............

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Nancy Kopp
Nancy Kopp
May 10, 2023
Rated 5 out of 5 stars.

A well-deserved award for this essay. Loved the humor and the truisms in it. I just smiled when I read of your dreading 70. I will be 84 later this month, and I am delighted I've made it this far, am still on two feet, and still writing. My mother always said she dreaded any birthday with a 0 in it! Thanks for a good read.

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Guest
May 10, 2023
Rated 5 out of 5 stars.

Congratulations, I love your humorous and informative essay! I'm hoping my body and mind never get offended by those numbers on my birth certificate.

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mairi
May 10, 2023
Rated 5 out of 5 stars.

Congratulations on your award Constance. Loved this essay, a rollicking informative read oozing with energy, humour and inspiration.

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