Everyone said you start feeling old after your 20s but I felt nothing like that when I turned 30. I was enjoying raising two young girls and having a ball. Everyone said that at the onset of midlife, you start asking yourself what you have done with your life and really start feeling old. Not me. When I turned 40, I didn’t feel old. Today, I turn 46 and that’s nearer 50 than 40. Well into my midlife. My firstborn is in college; my younger girl in her last year in high school.
Am I old? Are you nuts? I’m still having a ball. Just like I was when I was 16, 25, 37, 40… Some people my age think about death seriously. I know many who have taken memorial plans. But me? Not too long ago, I told my husband that when I go, I want to be standing on some cliff or seashore, taking photos and still thinking about how well to capture the moment in words and images.
Is it a case of denial? Hell, no. I am very well aware of how different I am, of the physical changes I have undergone, of the fact that my body is subject to wear and tear and to that all-encompassing rule about all physical objects having a definite life span. I can’t swim like I could when I was 16. Two laps and my breath comes in in short gasps these days. So I’m thirty pounds heavier. Maybe more. The skin on my face and neck isn’t as smooth and supple as it used to be, fine wrinkles are starting to show and the flesh around my jaw is not as taut as it was when I was 30. But I don’t look at any of that as growing old. I look at all of that as living life and proudly showing how much of my life I’ve lived so far.
Being old is a state of mind. It carries with it the notion that one is past his prime and no longer able to be as productive as he was when he was much younger. But productivity has many connotations. Being old carries an implication too that one is no longer capable of having fun. That’s a lot of baloney. Productivity and the ability to have fun have nothing to do with calendar years. They have everything to do with a person’s outlook in life.
Being old also carries that stigma of losing one’s good looks – a stigma perpetrated by the cosmetic, medical and advertising industries with the able help of news and entertainment media, their favorite partners-in-crime. This obsession to recapture fading youth, this fixation with freezing time, this mania to die at 80 looking like one is only 40 has become an epidemic.
But what does looking good really mean? I’m sure you’ve heard of actress Annette Bening and you’ve probably seen some of her films. She was beautiful at 33 when she appeared in Bugsy in 1991 with Warren Beatty. She is 51 today, skin and flesh show her age, but she looks gorgeous because beyond the wrinkles, what one sees is the glowing persona of a woman who has lived a full live, in control of what she wants for herself both personally and professionally. This is a woman at peace with herself and secure in her person.
How to do that? Let me share with you a conversion I recently had with my almost 16-year-old daughter, Alex, who intends to take up a course in Film in college and who was telling me every reason why I should enroll in film myself. Two weeks ago, we visited the Marilou Diaz Abaya Film Institute and learned that workshops are conducted occasionally aside from the full courses. And Alex told me why shouldn’t I enroll in film courses when once upon a time it was my dream to study theater arts except that my parents objected because they didn’t think that any profession related with the performing arts was respectable at all.
Just to see how she would react, I said, “But don’t you think I’m a bit too old to start a new career?” And she looked at me as though she couldn’t believe I said that. Me – of all people saying something like that. And she said it doesn’t have to be a new career but just doing something I’ve always loved. As a hobby. As a vocation. And I loved her for saying that – all of that, in fact – because I knew I had somehow succeeded in planting a seed. I know that when she is about to turn 46 and she feels she still hasn’t done everything she has dreamed of doing, she won’t chicken out just because of her age.
The thing is, I am now in love with another theater and production is no longer on a physical stage. I love writing. I love photography. And I love Asia. So I am now heavily involved in a theater that I have defined and a stage that I have created. And it’s a grand production that I intend to see completion before that day on some cliff or seashore when, camera still in hand and notebook lying somewhere near, I finally expire with a smile on my face. If that sounds cryptic, well, all will be clear in time. All in good time.
It is the daring spirit who chooses to live as he believes that truly exudes beauty that transcends the ephemeral. I say, find your corner of the sky and live out the rest of your life doing what makes you happy. Follow your dreams and be a real person rather than treat your body as a mold to change and tweak with every passing fashion and craze. Then, it won’t matter whether you’re 20 or 40 or 60. You will always be productive, able to have fun and stay beautiful.