Wednesday, April 4, 2012

What was lost....

You are as young as your faith, as old as your doubt; as young as your self-confidence, as old as your fear; as young as your hope, as old as your despair.  ~General Douglas MacArthur

Today is one of those picture perfect, elusive Spring days in Maine. My family often joked that Spring in Maine was a "stealth" season....not making more than one appearance between Winter and the 4th of July. Thankfully, I was able to get outside and enjoy the milder temperatures to walk my two big dogs. Instead of the usual jaunt out of our neighborhood and scramble up the hillside, I decided to shake our destination up radically. I chose another neighborhood not far from ours. The dogs thought this was Mardi Gras and enjoyed all the new schools, the squirrels they had yet to intimidate and new spots to, well, 'visit'. It was great. I ran into a woman I hadn't seen in nearly two years with her dog. We stopped to visit, let our pets touch noses while we caught up.

"I heard you'd been sick. I'm glad you're doing better, " this woman said to me.

"Me, too!," I smiled.

Then, really looking at me, shaking her head and making eye contact, she said, "You just LOOK so different. I never would have recognized you. But, at least you're alive. That's the important thing."

Stunned, I said my goodbyes and staggered off, feeling punched in the emotional pit of my stomach. I realize that I don't look 30 anymore. I also realize that I don't look like the skinny yoga instructor I was just 18 months ago. I have a closet of clothes that are too tight and a mirror that shows every inch of of my body's changes, due to surgery and the following complications. I also see that every line on my face, the worries, the pain, the fears and the anxiety I've experienced. I'm not blind, nor do I live in a bubble. I understand what I've lost. I also understand it can never be recovered, given my new set of physical limitations, as well as my age. And my unexpected conversationalist was correct. My being alive is the most important thing. I am here. I am well enough to take Dakota and Murphy on long jaunts. I am excited for my daughter's prep school graduation. I am looking forward to my 25th wedding anniversary with my husband, my son coming home from Florida and my mother spending the summer in Maine. I have many blessings to count. I treasure each and every one of them. 

And yet, this woman's comments did shine a spotlight on an issue that many women my age feel, cancer patients or not: we are no longer recognizable as the women we used to be. Oh, maybe some of us have pushed back the clock a bit and held off the inevitable. Maybe there are more magazine articles telling us that "50 is the new 30". The fact, however, is that time marches on. As Dolly Parton says, in "Steel Magnolias", "And if you're not careful, it'll march right over your face!". We may have been pretty, we have even been beautiful, we may have been sparkling, we may have been just breathtakingly, achingly young. We are no longer those dazzling girls. But, we have something pretty spectacular: we are here. We are wise. We are careful. We can see the bigger picture. We are creative. We are grounded. We are fabulous. But we still find ourselves in a tailspin when someone calls the 'smaller picture'..the one in the our attention.

Love handles? Crow's feet? Thighs that even Buddha would hate? Bah! Humbug. We are alive. Let the young girls have their moment in the sun. Let them enjoy it. They'll cross the bridge and join us here on the other side and say, "This is scary, but it's great." It really is scary. It's scary to not recognize ourselves. But it's much scarier giving in to despair. I'd rather be who I am...with the appreciation for all I've learned along the way...than be who I was. Pretty, or not. Therefore, we can tell those belles, coming across the path towards us, it *is* great.

However, I still wish I could fit into my old jeans. Some days.

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