We were celebrating a birthday at work today, which got me thinking about how incorrect our attitude toward age is in the society I live in.
In my mind, the more years of experience a person has the more valuable they should be. Younger people are certainly lovable and interesting and creative and intelligent – but they haven’t yet had time to ripen and season, to earn the wisdom or experience or learning that their elders have achieved.
Since our society is obsessed with beauty, and youth indicators like bigger eyes and fuller lips are currently considered more beautiful, that seems to be what primarily matters to us. As such it’s hard to grow older because people feel as though they lose something every year instead of seeing what they gain with each passing year in the value of what they know and have seen. I’ve felt it myself as I stare into the mirror and notice my thinning lips, the network of laugh lines road mapping their way across my forehead, and the way the skin on my chest is taking on the consistency of crepe paper.
I find our whole attitude toward aging to be pretty messed up. Just as I find it messed up that the largest in physical stature among us are paradoxically seen as the least in social stature. What if humans were like lions or other apex predators, with the biggest standing de facto at the top of the pecking order?
Maybe it’s easier for me, being married to Ted who is turning 57 this month and aside from being annoyed with the occasional ache in his back and lessening ability to tolerate heat and humidity, couldn’t really care less about the number of birthdays he’s had. He likes his birthday and to celebrate it, but the number of candles on his cake is irrelevant (so long as there’s cake).
And maybe it’s easier for him than most people too, since if he bothered to dye his hair darker he would look as young as or younger than me – his face is boyish and unlined, his hair full and soft, and his body is firm and tall.
But what if a lined face, a softening figure, and a receding hairline were considered breathtakingly gorgeous as markers of the worth of a person’s experience in life? What if we gained value with each passing year instead of feeling as though our social currency is slowly running out? What if we waited hopefully as young people for the day we would become beautifully mature? What a world that would be.