Thanks to cramped quarters, security measures imposed after 9/11 and the general difficulties of traversing airports, travel by plane these days is an exercise in non-stop torture, particularly for elders.
This is not unknown and Crabby Old Lady will have something to say about it later this week. But on my recent trip to Michigan, I discovered a whole new means of personal bedevilment.
Some background is required.
In my apartment in Greenwich Village where I lived for 23 years from age 41 to 64, there was, next to my closet, a full-length mirror. Like many people, I checked myself there before leaving home to see that I was pulled together in reasonably good order.
If you don’t count the last four or five of those years when age-related pudginess made it a less than satisfying ritual, I was pleased with what I saw.
I left that mirror behind when I moved to Maine where the only mirror in the house was on the door of the medicine cabinet above the bathroom sink. For four years, I saw myself only from the neck up and that was fine with me given the bulges, sags and crepe-y skin here and there that I’d rather ignore anyway.
Then, a year ago, when I moved to Oregon, the apartment came with full-length mirrors on two of the sliding closet doors and a long, large mirror above the sinks in the dressing room together with, on the perpendicular, the medicine cabinet mirror.
Like the fun house at an amusement park, all these mirrors create a multitude of images from varying angles reflecting off one another leaving no possibility of fooling oneself into thinking the body is well-used but okay.
Not a chance of that.
It was a shock, after four years, the first time I saw myself naked in that room. It is a sight best left undescribed and in fact, I quickly learned to cover myself with a robe even when, for example, it might otherwise be more convenient to brush my teeth in the nude after showering.
I have become adept, too, at averting my eyes when my body is, necessarily, exposed while dressing.
You think that’s easy? Take a look at the room I’m talking about:
Nevertheless, I am so expert at it now that I might as well be blind when I’m changing clothes.
Then, two weeks ago, I stayed in a hotel room where there was a full-length mirror on the outside of the closet door, another one opposite the medicine cabinet mirror in the bathroom (the better to see one’s saggy butt) and a large mirror above the desk across from the bed.
Additionally, the lighting was unexpectedly different from home so that it was impossible – dressing, undressing and showering – not to catch sight of my mis-shapen old body as it actually is.
This shouldn’t be a surprise and theoretically (that is, applied to others), I believe there is dignity in an elder body as shown in this Auguste Rodin sculpture titled, “The Old Courtesan,” of a woman who had been a professional model in her youth:
I think she is beautiful in the manner of a fading flower at the end of summer.
We have been inured through our culture’s obsession to judge youthful bodies as the ideal and to disdain the inevitable changes that come with age. I am reminded of a quote from James Hillman that Marian Van Eyk McCain left in a comment when I first posted the image of the Rodin sculpture a few years ago:
“…when the body begins to sag, it is abandoning sham and hypocrisy. The body leads the way down, deepening your character. It doesn’t know how to lie.”
I’m working on seeing my own body in all those mirrored reflections with such a sensibility.
At The Elder Storytelling Place today, Mickey Rogers: Roughing It