How the voices speak of what is and isn’t tastes of a superficial sauce I let drip from my lips. In the first dialectic of aging (harkening back to Marie Cartier’s helpful division of conversational foci), usually what is spoken about has little to do with our mental, spiritual, or emotional states. It is not a comment on perhaps what it should be: how evolved in consciousness or how mindful a soul is, how evolved in practices of discipline and surrender one is, how creative we have been in our attempt to ease the suffering of ourselves and others. It is not this because when people comment on age or how old someone might be, it is usually, in my recent experience, from one who knows not a person well enough to address any of these former possibilities nor in a situation where those in conversation have the luxury of mulling over such glittering, dazzling musings.
For indeed, let beings sit together on rocks or leather couches, playfully and perhaps seriously, discuss opinions on reincarnation, what has appeared in Tarot readings of current life stages and what the presence of what that Major Arcana card might represent as intuited by our subconscious. We might share stories of the messages we have lately received from trees, how they surrender so seemingly freely to their baldness as we might, with a few tufts of auburn leaves on a naked limb, how sometimes the bark is smooth and ghostly pale and how other times the trees that catch our communion are thick and rough like we are, tempting us to press our soft flesh into each other’s bark and feel how specks of wood and sap enter us, how we all bend and break and maybe rise up in another season with a flamboyant, hairy green bush, taking up all the space that we can, as we reach our arms in passionate ecstasy to the sun and moon, learning that sometimes we can best speak in silence and trembling.
Yet when we hear the words “age” and “old,” when colleagues or strangers or friends or lovers are stamping their opinions on our bodies, the words are not used with the honoring of those terms and all they might imply, and it seems we/they are, in these instances, often speaking in ignorance of what we do not know. Sometimes these conversations set each other up for suffering since the misalignment of how a person looks with how they otherwise are often is implicative of a prejudice or disdain toward someone else, general or specific.
What I am thinking when a person, regardless of the intent, seeks to write a comment of age or oldness onto my body . . . I want to rake out whatever they have scribbled on my flesh and subs-tattoo it with the word ‘ancient’. I am as ancient as the mountains in Colorado. My DNA is the same as the sea. My soul is as eternal as the dying stars that last for eons. Our 80 or 50 or 30 years here experiencing a human body is child’s play. The books I read and the plants that line my walk seem older, wiser, more generous. So, okay, if you say, “Gosh! You are old!” YES, you flatter me, if you know at all what you say, because ‘old’ is an old word, and what is being born in any year of the last century or two compared to the 13.8 billion old of the universe? Even the latter might just be the beginning of old. The Germanic alt is connected to the Old Islandic ala, meaning “to nourish, to bring up, to feed oneself,” so if you are trying to say I feed myself well . . . Perhaps, sometimes. Thank you.
Do not say that someone is lucky to not look their age, to not look old. The ancient and eternal are not states we want to avoid. Do not say that we have time, if we are young. Let us try to die to self every moment we can remember that is an option. We do have time. Each moment is a potential eternity. If you say we are not old and mad, you insult, because madness is also truth and divinity. Our states are tragic and beautiful and real and imaginative. If you say we look tired, that our eyes are gathered like wet sheets of a feverish child this morning, well, we might be tired, or we might be very happy. Stay awhile to find out.
We desperately need a new narrative of old, of aging. One that is complicated and messy and requires cups of coffee and intimacy and vulnerability and the willingness to fall in love with each other. My own skin has lived through sandy beaches and tornados and sleepless nights writing poetry or completing a science fair project, it has been dripped on with black tea I sometimes paint my lashes with, it has been kissed and caressed and sucked and wounded. My soul as well . . . my soul has read the books my hands hold for it, sipping from deep well waters. My mind has been emptied and then filled like an ever-moving ocean. My heart has been lost and wanted and lined with the gold that some are in tradition of doing when something falls over edges and gets cracked. A human being is so much more than what is superficially present or lacking on their body. We can’t trust the loudest messages of old and of age. Those messages are of profit and not holistic well-being. To understand old and age, we must kneel down, press our ear to the wet dirt or a chest, to place a hand on breath and take in the spearmint drum beats of a pulsing universe.
Lache S., Ph.D., graduated in 2014 from the Women and Religion program at Claremont Graduate University. She teaches composition from a contemplative pedagogical approach at Oklahoma State University. Currently, she is working on a book project titled Minimalism, Mindfulness, and the Middle Way, incorporating guidance from sacred wisdom literatures. She is also working on certification as a yoga instructor.