A few days ago, I was rushing out the door, late for an appointment, when my cellphone rang. It was an old (both literally and figuratively) friend.
“I really don’t have time to talk now,” I said as I tried (without success) to fly down the stairs. “Can it wait until the afternoon?”
“Debbie, this is really, really important.”
“Okay, shoot.” I really was in a rush, and I did have a lot to do, but a friend is a friend, so I stopped to give her my full attention.
“How did you manage to lose the weight? Tell me what exercise to do. No matter how hard I try, I can’t manage to get it off. Tell me your secret!” she begged. I could hear the urgency in her voice.
I didn’t know whether to laugh or cry. But since I really was in a rush, I didn’t even bother trying to be diplomatic. “At this point in my life, I couldn’t care less about my weight. I’m just doing what I need to do to stay healthy.”
Later that evening, thinking back to that short conversation, it suddenly dawned on me: I had spent the last I don’t even know how many years of my life worrying about my weight, and trying desperately to attain the perfect weight (and secretly wishing that the clock would turn back a few centuries, and fat would once again become fashionable), while at the same time feeling like a failure at my inability to do so. But now, and I have no idea when or how it happened, my entire outlook has changed.
Yes, of course, I know that it’s important to look mechubadik, and I take care to dress in a becoming manner, but as far as I know, a perfect weight has never been a prerequisite for being a true bas Yisrael. In other words, I’ve stopped trying to be something I’m not. I don’t feel like a failure for not accomplishing the impossible and am (finally) happy in my own skin.
I wonder if this change of how I view myself is a result of growing older, a realization that the outer trappings are temporary (yes, we all know that, but that knowledge becomes much more real with the march of time), and that it just doesn’t pay to waste so much energy trying to do something that I can’t.
Twenty years ago (yup, it was after the wedding of one of my sons, and his oldest is now nineteen) I wrote an article that appeared in Horizons, one of the first English-language magazines for the religious public, about how each of my many wrinkles has its own story. One was earned for the many nights I sat on the porch, wrapped in a multitude of heavy quilts, trying to help an asthmatic child breathe; another, for the moments of dread until I finally succeeded in accounting for all my family members after each bus bomb.
I laughingly commented that perhaps I should call myself a summer chicken, since spring has already passed. Today, I marvel at how I wrote that when, in fact, I was really so young.
But then again, age is relative; when I was a teenager, I viewed anyone over forty as being very old, and of course my grandchildren think I must be at least a hundred, or even, as I overheard one whisper to her sister, “Bubby must be at least a thousand years old.”
Last week, I gave a talk at one of the seminaries in London. One of the girls asked me how I manage to stay so positive while living with a degenerative, incurable condition. I responded that every person has challenges. It just so happens that people are aware of this particular challenge because Binah requested that I do not use a pseudonym when I wrote my “Living with Parkinson's” series. Although we cannot choose our challenges, we can choose how we decide to face them, what we do with them. That’s our nisayon in life.
When I told my husband about the girl’s question, he commented that for a young person on the threshold of life, my challenge sounds horrific. But part of being older is the realization that life itself is a “degenerative, incurable condition”! Few of us escape the infirmities associated with old age, and all of us eventually succumb.
Or as my friend Tova who lives in a nursing home often points out when she hears the other women bemoan their fate, “What did they think? That they’ll stay young forever?”
So I’ll enjoy the freedom of not being young, of not having to worry about the far-from-perfect figure, or what people think of me. Instead, I’ll rejoice in every moment, savor the simple things in life and count my (many) blessings.
Ice cream, anyone?