2004-08-20 / Columnists

Health & Harmony

The Lady In The Orange Hat
By Dr. Nancy Gahles

DR. Nancy gahles
DR. Nancy gahles I was trying on dresses to wear to my son’s Bar Mitzvah. Evening dresses are generally sleeveless and present a unique dilemma to the over fifty set. How to cover the dangling triceps? It just wouldn’t do to wear a shawl all night long and God knows I don’t have the motivation or the time to tone up all those muscles groups before Labor Day. What to do? I hemmed and I hawed as I relentlessly tried on dress after dress and decided that it must be the mirrors in the Bloomingdale’s dressing room. Surely the lighting will be more favorable at the affair. Soft lighting decreases the crepe paper effect of the skin. I made a note to speak to the caterer about this.

Leaving the store empty handed and thoroughly dismayed, I started walking down 57th Street. How old would you be if you didn’t know how old you are? It was really a bit shocking, that image in the mirror. I hadn’t realized I looked like THAT. I hadn’t really paid much attention to the details. I thought I looked much younger than I actually did. “I’ll just have to accept the way aging has made its mark on me”, I thought glumly. As Gloria Steinem so aptly put it, “This is what 50 looks like!”

As I waited for the light to change a woman strutted past me in black stiletto heels. I noticed them first because I knew that I could never wear them, especially at my age. And certainly not at the Bar Mitzvah for the whole night. My feet would kill me! She had on a big orange hat. It was magnificent and bold. She was wearing the quintessential little black dress (sleeveless) and was sporting a great tan. The effect was stunning. All the more so because as I looked more closely this woman was at least 75 years old. She wore her crepe paper skin proudly and the wrinkles in her face were many. Her triceps were dangling and she was beautiful! She strut by me with such confidence and pure elegance that all I could do was stare.

How old would you be if you didn’t know how old you are? The question of aging was truly put into perspective with this apparition. I have not stopped thinking of this woman as I see the reality shows on television promoting make-overs for all ages. As I sat in a waiting room recently I overheard a discussion between two women whose daughters had asked for breast lifts for their high school graduation. The societal denigration of the human body has really taken a foothold in our culture. Now more than ever, I have embraced my body as the vehicle that has lovingly carried me through my many journeys in life. Some I’ve weathered better than others. Some I wear on my sleeve, my face and my neck. Some I hold in my heart. None will I let keep me from honoring their expression. All these lines were hard won. I’m proud of every one of them. I earned them all. As women baby boomers become a most plentiful population, I hope that we all stand as role models for our children. I would hope that our message to them is that the way we carry ourselves forward in life is a reflection of how we honor and respect ourselves and others. That what truly matters is the radiant heart light that shines through that thin, wrinkled skin. And if you pull that skin tight and erase the lines, who will know you? How can we see who you truly have become? How can we learn about life? I wish that I had stopped that woman in the orange hat. I would have loved to talk to her. But her presence told me all I needed to know and turned my thoughts in another direction. God turns you from one feeling to another and teaches by means of opposites, so that you will have two wings to fly, not one. (Rumi).

On the day my son becomes a man, I will become more of a woman. I’m wearing a sleeveless, strapless dress. And I’m hanging crepe paper lanterns with soft lighting…for effect. I’ll be the one smiling brightly at the inside joke. And I’ll be the one with the deeply etched laugh lines in her face. They speak volumes about my life and I want the world to know. I lived, I laughed and I loved. And I hope it shows. May The Blessings Be!

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