Is not wisdom found among the aged? Does not long life bring understanding? – Job 12:12
For Betty and Dolores
Despite modern-day messages to the contrary, the aging process can represent a glorious time filled with gifts not necessarily available in our youth. One of those is wisdom we gain that affords us critical thinking skills. These are especially useful when making healthy choices for our well-being. For example, we can choose to fight to retain our youth, which is impossible in reality. Or we can elect to accept ourselves, even with signs of aging, as we grow older. I’m not saying we shouldn’t try to look and feel our best, but we should understand the futility of buying into the culture’s definitions of what our best should be. Basically, it all depends on whether we choose to listen to the world’s view of aging or to God’s view.
This point was brought home to me one morning as I walked in a mall, after an exercise class, and sipped on a hot vanilla latte. A salesman emerged from behind a kiosk with a pitch aimed at convincing me I couldn’t possibly pass up the opportunity to purchase his age-reversing face cream.
He made an attempt (unsolicited) to guess my age. He tried flattering me by offering an estimate that was twenty years younger than my actual age. He then told me what he did not like about my face. In his opinion, my wrinkles had to go. It was fortunate for me that he had just the product to fill in the cracks, smooth out my face, and make it “real pretty.”
This is where my mind checked out and I politely nodded like a bobble-headed dog in the back of a 1960 Cadillac. I wasn’t trying to be discourteous, but my thoughts wandered to the image of a former neighbor. When I was a little girl, we lived next door to a man named Mr. Mueller. Every day he went to work in his big white panel truck, dressed in overalls and a checkered shirt. He carried a metal slate with a handle and a small tool with a triangular blade called a trowel. He was a bricklayer, and these were the tools of his trade.
One day I asked Mr. Mueller about these interesting gadgets. He informed me that he used them to mix up something called mortar and put it into cracks between bricks. The mortar, he told me, held the bricks in place, filled in the cracks, and made brickwork look real pretty and smooth.
I heard someone cough, realized I was being rude with my mental time travel, and came back into the company of this modern-day mortar man who didn’t like my face. He offered to do his magic by smoothing the rough parts of my face and making me look more desirable. His smile faded as I looked past him in anticipation of seeing my childhood neighbor. The anti-aging guru stepped around me to try his luck with the next potential customer. I moved on and enjoyed my latte.
That night, I couldn’t help studying my mug in the mirror. I made faces trying to find what needed to be plastered up. I smiled and then frowned. I wanted to see why I simply could not live without a half-ounce jar of a concoction developed to make my face acceptable.
As I began my survey, I was struck by the stories reflecting back at me. I saw a little girl who survived a family riddled with alcoholism, domestic violence, and abuse. Some smile wrinkles represent the madness of my early twenties with the parties, music, protests, and fierce intensity spent on self-definition. Other lines fade into strokes of sadness as I thought about many friends who never returned from Vietnam. Still other lines represent furry at the injustices my sisters and brothers of color have experienced, and still are experiencing, at being denied something that is supposed to be guaranteed in our country—equitable treatment on all levels.
I ran a forefinger over creases signifying indescribable joy when I first held my child after his birth. These lines sit next to those carved from anguish felt when standing beside others as they buried their precious babies.
Tears filled my eyes when I remembered the night I found and accepted Jesus. I rocked gently in the rhythm of the dance we’ve done for over forty years. In gratitude to Him, I acknowledged the blessings of family, friends, and the opportunity to grow through forgiving and being forgiven.
In my face that night, I saw tracks of a lifetime that has seen good and bad, joy and disappointment, fear and faith, love and loss, and the precious gift of over six decades on this earth. Although I have never considered myself a traffic-stopping beauty, I was puzzled to think my face could be considered offensive to someone with no understanding of the treasure represented by each fold or furrow. I sent up a little prayer asking God to protect that young man and many others in our society from being brainwashed by the sales pitch he had memorized.
I turned off the light and headed to bed. While submerging into a pillow, our Lord played a musical poem and guided me into dreams. Even in semi-consciousness, I knew God was revealing His truth about beauty and who defines it.
“I’ve put you dear one in this time and this space; Sculpted your life, plotted the course of your race; And even though life is both leather and lace; There is nothing, sweet child; I don’t love on your face.”
Copyright August 2011
llpadgett, Lakewood, CO
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“Dolores, Like the River,” available at Westbow Press, Barnes & Noble, Amazon and all major online retailers. If you live in the U.S. and would like an autographed copy sent directly to you, click on the Buy Books tab on my home page
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