If you ask me how old I feel, I’ll tell you “40.”
Why? Because I didn’t start to feel my uniqueness, my strengths, my true self, until I hit my fourth decade. Now, I am almost at level 7.0 (that’s a story for another day). As I turn 69, I have a degree of gravitas, of self-confidence, of utter joy in being-ness that utterly eluded me in my 20s and 30s.
So, my inner self is doing very well, for which I am profoundly grateful. My outer self? Well, I like myself the way I am just fine, but when I attend my bi-weekly ballet classes otherwise populated by young teens… oh my.
The comparison is daunting. Their leg lifts are effortless; mine are a study in grunts. Their backbends curve in graceful arcs halfway to the floor; I’m lucky if I get a quarter of the way there. And jumps? Their leaps defy gravity; mine are distinctly earthbound.
I have a choice. I can lament the losses occasioned by the passage of time, or, like Marge Champion, I can simply shift my focus to what I can do, rather than what I can’t.
Marge Champion danced her way to fame on the Broadway stage and in movies, often with her longtime husband and partner, Gower Champion, through the 1940s and beyond. In 2010, a beautiful documentary was made, featuring Marge, then 90, and her dancing partner, Donald Sadler, also 90. Donald and Marge worked together in the Broadway production of “Follies” back in 2001, and had such a great time, they proceeded to rent a studio where they meet twice a week to — you guessed it — dance!
Marge’s perspective on the changes she’s observed in herself over time is enlightening. She said, “I think it’s kind of fun to see myself as an old lady. All this stuff that’s floating around the universe about being young. In this society, old, or even middle-aged, are dirty words. And everybody wants to live eternally young.”
“Well, I gotta tell you, they’re fighting the wrong cause. They’re gonna get old and they might as well enjoy it. I know I had to learn a very very important lesson, and that was to accept every decade for what it gives you, not for what it takes away. And you can adjust! So you can’t do falls or lifts, but you can still move with grace.”
Grace! Inspired by Marge, I began to see my stumbling and staggering about my ballet class differently. I realized that what I lacked in sheer physical prowess, I made up for in spades with grace, something that my fellow teen students, fabulous as they are, have yet to acquire. For grace is something dancers achieve over time, and I have been dancing for many years.
But grace is not something just for dancers. Grace is a state of mind. A willingness to be gracious in all we think and do. To be more patient with ourselves and others. To lean in to what we can do, accept it, do whatever it is to the absolute best of our current ability, to enjoy it with every fiber of our being.
We have blessedly five senses – taste, touch, smell, sight, hearing. To whatever degree those senses are functional, enjoy them! Really taste that ice cream, feel the warmth of that hug, relish the scent of a summer bloom, look more closely into your grandbaby’s eyes, listen for the magic of wind in the trees. Refuse to skim the surface of these sensations, delve deep, cherish them!
We have limbs that can stretch and flex, move, carry and hold. However, now if they operate 100%, 50%, 10%, enjoy them! Become fully present to the gift of who you are, here, now.
Live in a state of grace. Be grateful, aware, and in love with who you are now. With those in your world, and with the world around you. Just as it is, just as you are.
What a gift! To yourself and others. And oh yes, in my own small way, I am an example to those young teens in my ballet class. I remind them of what good the years ahead have to offer.
What do you love about your older body? Have you accepted your physical limitations? What new insights have you gained with the decades? Share your thoughts with our community.