It was on a flight from Las Vegas to San Francisco, a flight I had made countless times over the years, when I had a deja vu moment about aging. As I glanced over to the woman to my right, I suddenly remembered all the times I had watched the older women in my life as a child and felt as far removed from them then as I do now from a 15 year old male skateboarder from Detroit.
On that flight, a surreal feeling swept over me…as if I was her or could have been a dear friend of hers in a previous life. The moment was short lived but vibrant and incredibly real, and it made me incessantly aware of aging and this precious thing called human life.
Not quite 70, the woman was a petit, short Asian woman with beautiful silver hair, strands of black scattered throughout as the only remnants left of her middle age life. Her skin was glowing despite her obvious fatigue and you could tell she was once a stunner in that way you can about some people; there’s a certainty, a quiet sauciness, and a knowing smile that suggests a life fully lived. She was wearing faded jeans, classy gold earrings with just a touch of ruby red and a Victorian blue button up top with a crocheted back that barely covered her neck, just enough to add a sweet balance of feminine energy to her other otherwise masuline aura despite her small frame.
Her face was weathered, not terribly so, but like her glow, certainty and smile, her face and hands exuded a lifetime of stories, over decades of experiences, far far beyond Las Vegas or San Francisco.
My deja vu moment came moments after a visit to the airplane lou where I observed my own weathered skin from years of sun exposure including the most recent trip in an open convertible where the hot desert sun beat on my skin, adding more aging spots which will someday tell a long story, or a series of them, just like my silver-haired neighbor to my right.
Although I was probably close to 30 years her junior, I felt as if this woman, whose coiled sleeping body next to me, was a kindred spirit somehow, despite the fact that we had yet to exchange a word.
Part of the desert trip included exploring rock ruins, flora and engravings, the latter of which told some of our ancestor’s stories during a time that not only knew no computer, but knew no pen, paper or even a primitive chalkboard. I couldn’t get enough of the hot Utah sun largely because the sun had become such a foreign oddity as I had somehow become more accustomised to hanging out with words on a screen as Google’s Chrome would churn them out tab after tab.
Despite the fact that I had “inked” my face up with pure white zink from Australia, the sun took its toll, not just on my face but on every inch of my body except for the six inches which were covered by scarves and shawls.
In the mirror that afternoon, seeing the weathered results of miles of sun and wind, brought back a memory of my South African host sister and I basking in the African sun as teenagers one a hot summer afternoon in Durban. We were coated with baby oil as were our neighbors and their neighbors and so on. My host mother would bring out iced tea (roibos) with mint on the hour to make sure we were hydrated and their rotweiler would bark every time she opened the door. White as snow, she came out glaring through the sun to find us spread out on the grass in her 1950s-style apron with printed pansies in oranges and reds. She would shudder as my grandfather would at the amount of time we spent unprotected under the far too close to the equator sky. Like our neighbors, and their neighbors and so on.
As the memories flooded my head, I looked back at my silver-haired friend, who opened one eye on this occasion, just enough to add a small but tired smile as a way to acknowledge my gaze. At the end of the flight, we exchanged one short sentence as we all queued up like cattle waiting our turn to exit the plane.
I felt so connected to this woman I knew nothing about for some reason and yet……an older short, silver-haired Asian woman with gold earrings next to an American auburn haired, blue eyed woman nearly half her age and yet the almost silent exchange was as if…..as if, we had met before in a far away place, in a previous life, at a time when time had no meaning.
When time has no meaning, aging has no meaning. Later, I read an excerpt called Late Ripeness by Czeslaw Milosz that went something like this:
like ships, together with their sorrow.
And the countries, cities, gardens, the bays of seas
assigned to my brush came closer,
ready now to be described better than they were before.
It made me think of her, the woman whose name I never learned, nor whose origin I will ever know. Yet when time has no meaning and aging has no meaning, I understand how things in an aging mind might just be ready to describe things better than they were before, and as the brush does in fact come closer, we also appreciate the preciousness of the journey we’re on, have more gratitude for what we are becoming and who we encounter along the way.
We also become okay with the silence that blesses us along the way. Just when we think the silence is a detriment as it reminds us that we are in fact getting older, we realize that it is a gift, the biggest gift we’ll ever receive in our lifetimes, for when we live our lives from this place, we are more open, more vulnerable, more authentic and more pure. How appropriate to end with one of my favorite quotes of all time: “The whole world surrenders to a quiet mind.”