Growing Up Is Optional

I knew the day might not be a good one as soon it began. I held my face-recognition iPhone up in front of me and my phone had the audacity not to recognize me and opted not to open. “Nope,” it clearly said. Whatever face I was wearing in that moment, my phone refused to recognize it. Not a good sign. Passcode required. I didn’t know whether to laugh or throw my phone through the window. I decided on laughter. Laughter is always the best reaction to such disappointing news. And it got me thinking.

I have long been a fan of Jamie Lee Curtis, especially for her role in True Lies and A Fish Called Wanda. For some time, Jamie (since we are on a first name basis, though come to think of it, I can’t remember the last time she invited me over for a piece of pie) has been an advocate of people, mostly women, being their true self. She has openly discussed her philosophy of life being at cross-purposes to a multi-billion-dollar industry focussed on hiding who we are with hair dye, concealers, plastic surgery, body shapers, anti-aging snake oils, to name a few. “We are all going to age,” she says. I am paraphrasing. Her choice of words was a tad stronger than what I am using here.

In her most recent film, Everything Everywhere All At Once, Jamie plays a quirky Internal Revenue Service inspector and in that role she insisted on letting her sixty-year-old+ tummy hang out. “I have been sucking my stomach in since I was eleven,” Jamie said on an Instagram post, and letting her abdominal muscles relax was liberating both “creatively and physically”. And no one was injured when she relaxed.

Not so long ago an elderly neighbour of a friend of mine claimed she no longer liked going out in public because she is wrinkled and her hair is thin. I remember feeling shocked sadness that her impression of herself was limited to her physical appearance and would leave her isolated, be the only thing she thought mattered about her. Is that what we do? Does our appearance have more to do with our value than anything else about us?

None of us really want to feel our youthful body slip away from us, but it is, as Ms. Curtis says and as we all know, inevitable. It would be wonderful if we had the awareness to listen to our elders in our youth, when they tell us we won’t always be who we are in that moment so that we might relish the flexible joints and smooth skin and not take a moment of being young for granted, but we don’t know then. We think every day has the potential of being the first day of something and never the last, and that’s as it should be.

If we didn’t age, we’d never learn to walk or to ride a bike or drive a car or dance or paint or write or sing. My body lets me down now. I remember when taking a tumble meant jumping to my feet and shouting, “I’m okay.” Now, when I tie my shoes, I think of staying down there and making a day of it, choosing that particular spot for a rest while I contemplate life. I could check under my bed for the inventory of dust bunnies while I was down there, anything to avoid getting back up that seems like way too much trouble.

I was a moderately proficient athlete in my day, but no one remembers that now, least of all me. I no longer bounce. The springs that once occupied my joints have been replaced with concrete. But here’s the thing that my good friend Walt Disney once said. Yes, we too were friends, Walt and I, a one-way friendship but I did write a speech about him in whatever grade we became obligated to write wretched speeches, but back to my point. “Growing old is mandatory, but growing up is optional.” Indeed, Walt was a wise man.