Facing Up To My Age

The amaryllis I received at Christmas is changing daily—kinda like my face. Every morning I check the amaryllis and it’s grown like Jack’s beanstalk overnight. Then I sneak a glance over my toothbrush at the bathroom mirror, and my! How I’ve changed. Deeper lines, chin disappearing into my neck, blotches and spots, and ever more, well, face.

Photographs portraying the depth of experience and wisdom in old faces enchant me. Facial lines etched like a map of life’s journey, happy crinkles at the eyes, questioning horizons across the brow intersecting with vertical furrows of thought. Trouble is, I’m at that not-quite-there-yet stage, like that pubescent era when my pre-teen nose and teeth got ahead of the rest of my face—beyond child but not yet adolescent.

How long does it take to get from an aging face to an interestingly aged face? I’m on my way. Most disappointing has been the gradual disappearance of what I always considered my best feature: eyebrows. Initially they turned white and wiry, then they stopped showing up altogether. Some of my friends do an artful job of penciling in eyebrows. I’m not up to it. In fact, my use of makeup has diminished as my face ages. My lips, which I thought were a little too full when I was young, have thinned—the only part of me that has.

I spend less on lipstick, but steroids soak up the cost savings. I’ve been diagnosed with an inflammatory skin condition that causes balding. Called “lichen planopilaris,” it’s rare, noncontagious, non-genetic, and idiopathic (meaning, said the dermatologist, “we idiot doctors don’t know what causes it.”) It’s more common in younger adult women, which makes me grateful to be a late bloomer. Topical steroids were prescribed with no assurance they’ll be effective. The alternatives suggested in medical brochures are scarves, wigs, and yup, comb-overs.

As I deal with this latest insult of aging, I found inspiration at the cinema. Who wouldn’t be charmed by Angela Lansbury, age ninety-three, presumably wearing her own wiry hair, handing out balloons to Mary Poppins? And unlike Hollywood actors who seek younger roles, Clint Eastwood at eighty-eight plays someone even older, a ninety-year-old drug runner in “The Mule.”

A blossom too old or in its prime?

Not the amaryllis, but another house plant suggests to me the glory of aging. My peace plant offers one elegant white bloom at a time. I noticed the mature bloom was getting dark around the edges as the younger replacement blossom began to appear. When I inadvertently delayed snipping off the older bloom, it developed a glorious bronze border enveloping a bulging stamen. Sexy and gorgeous even on the way out.

A friend, now well into her nineties and living in a care facility, made an astute comment years ago when mutual friends underwent plastic surgery to smooth out their faces.

“I’m proud of the lines on my face,” she said. “I earned every one of them.”

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