(My first attempt at writing in the third person, an important and necessary stretch in my writing practice)
… a 46 year-old, a 54 year-old and a 73 year old. They were originally connected by a workplace that each describes as the most unusual and life-giving one they’ve ever known. One of them still works there – the elder has since retired and the middle one left years ago, although she’s toying with the idea of a per-diem return. The workplace is no longer what keeps the connection alive – it is rather the ways they move through the world; the affections shared; the recognition of a common priority of living examined lives; the irreverent humor that is an essential and effortless part of their connections; the deep inquiry they continue to insist upon for themselves and those closest to them. All of that and more will show up tonight – the birthday of the youngest and Tuesday Bruschetta Night at Sugo’s!
A hilarious ordering of food ensues that can only be understood by the three of them and the history that threads through their lives. Anyone overhearing the conversation might think they were an old cantankerous married trio. Fortunately, the server arrived shortly after the machinations were completed and while the hilarity was just simmering down.
“I want my own brushcetta. The last time we shared, I didn’t get enough of the ‘classic.’ I’m glad to clear the air about that now!”
“We’re all gonna have our own order – you can have your own classic – two pieces of each kind to an order of three different varieties,” one of the other explains calmly but with the familiar hint of the rolling-of-the-eyes.
“But, but, but, I want the other kinds, too – how are we gonna do this?”
“Oh, don’t be ridiculous,” she explains again (im)patiently, “Everyone gets two pieces of three different kinds; six pieces each – what’s so difficult about that?!”
Still, the middle one was confused but decided best to leave it alone. After all, she wanted to share, too and this kind of giggly quibbling wouldn’t result in that outcome if she kept it up. All three of them wanted their own ‘classics,’ and then the heated negotiations yielded to sharing the other varieties. That, along with La Crema chardonnay and a roasted beets and Sonoma greens salad rounded out the most perfect and quintessentially local meal.
The two pieces of three brushcetta combinations were served on rectangular cutting boards – warm, crusty slices of fresh Italian bread loaded with the likes of: gorgonzola and walnuts; apples and brie; red pepper and goat cheese; olive tapenade and goat cheese; artichoke and pesto; and of course the classic variety with plenty of olive oil and diced tomatoes and basil over pesto – yep, this was definitely northern California!
While the food was beyond satisfying, it was the company and conversation that was the most nourishing of all at the table. In the midst of the cackles and the catching up, the talk came ‘round to the aging process. With her elders in attendance, the youngest, with simultaneous seriousness and firm tongue in cheek, asked for their wisdom and guidance as she forged forward into her 47th year.
Seems she was in the throes of increasingly impaired eyesight that while ignored for over three years, was becoming more demanding of correction. The elders nodded, looked over to her through their long since permanent eye wear, acknowledged their own historical resistance and vanity, and felt her pain. They dispensed with their suggestions of reading glasses in bed and no line bi-focals with a clear upper portion for other times. That settled, they moved onto the next item for discussion.
The middle one spoke of the insult not only of impaired vision, but of recent hearing loss and how that held yet another layer of concern and embarrassment. While the others heard her loud and clear, still they nodded in empathic concern and encouraged her to go ahead and use her deceased mother’s ones fitted to her needs. Seems they were on a roll in addressing these bodily concerns.
Then the focus turned to skin, which in various ways affected them all – something about the loss of elasticity, the need for daily moisturizers, the aging spots appearing on hands and faces and something about the wrinkles and flabbiness that had shown up. Ugh. Before this begins to sound, though, like these are women who spend time getting together and whining about bodily complaints and troubles, that just ain’t so. This was their first such talk like this and had nothing of the quality of aging women whining. Far from it. But…
“My ass is dropping.”
“You’ve been saying that for awhile.”
“Yes, but look, you can really see it now – it’s dropped even more. I notice it all the time now.”
She stands up and demonstrates. The occasion calls for a bit of an empathic stretch from the others as the ass in question looks about as perfect as possible from where they’re sitting. And yet, the truth to her of her drooping behind needed tending to and so it was. The other two offered their sincere condolences.
Now they moved into yet deeper realms of coping with the loss of youthfulness. This was a more recent awareness for the youngest than the others, for sure. While none of them necessarily pined for going backward – they were all too psychologically sophisticated and beyond the shallow focus of skin-deep beauty for that – still they mourned the loss of what could no longer be so for them as the invisibility cloak of the middle and elder years unwelcomingly draped itself around each of them in the vastly different ways it would do so.
The youngest fit more ‘appropriately’ into the cultural standards for beauty and body. She’s used to getting positive attention for how she looks and she’s rather enjoyed (most of) it. She’s had to learn how to manage the energy coming towards her, stay true to herself and her desires and also be kind to others. She’s pulled it off rather skillfully, in the midst of the internal challenges it’s given her. While she still gets plenty of attention and interest of others, she’s noticed that the 20 and 30-somethings behind her are getting more of it. That bothers her more than she’d like.
The middle one was never a head-turner, but certainly got attention, felt attractive throughout her life and still does. Metabolism and genetics had their way with her from her early 30’s, and she’s been battling with the weight issue on and off since then. Since she’s arrived well into her 50’s, she noticed a quality of which she had heard about, but one she never believed was really so and certainly never imagined would be for her. She’s become invisible in the world and now gets very little in the way of attention. That bothers her, too, more than she’d like.
The elder had her own and very different experience. She had always been invisible, she felt. She never garnered the attention and interest from others based solely or primarily on her looks. She lived with feeling ‘less than’ the pretty girls who got who and whatever they wanted because of their looks. This was further complicated in that generation because women weren’t expected to be much more than a pretty face. She has become accustomed to this way of moving through the world – this sense of physical/beauty invisibility – so the aging process didn’t bring it on, it only continued what she had always experienced. And while this bothered her less than the other two, still, she knew well and deeply the experience of which they spoke.
These are, remember, educated, aware, competent women who have capably developed many dimensions of themselves. They don’t define themselves solely or even primarily by how they look. They’ve likely not spent much time at the beauty counters in Macy’s or thumbing through Vogue. And yet, as they age and experience the ways that something of their value is being diminished and lost in our beauty and youth-obsessed culture, they can’t help but feel it.
Fortunately, they pepper these somber realizations by sprinkling plenty of humor all over it – laughing at each other and themselves while still staying true to the uncomfortable feelings that surface. They don’t want these things to matter and yet they do. They know their value goes beyond how they look, and yet they pay attention to how they look, too. They are vital, full of energy and imagination and yet their skin is loose and their eyes are going, but they know those things can’t and won’t get in their way. They are determined to live from a place of beauty no matter that the culture sees them as older and thus less highly prized. They will be and grapple with whatever shows up and they will do so with grace and humor. And plenty of bruschetta.