The Rip Van Winkle Effect

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“Some people, no matter how old they get, never lose their beauty. They merely move it from their faces into their hearts.”   

                                                                      -Martin Buxbaum

Rip Van WinkleSomebody sent me this quote and my first thought was ‘But it would really be nice to  keep it in both places, wouldn’t it?’  Our generation is famous for wanting it all.

The question had become relevant when I awakened Middle Aged one morning, having gone to bed the night before as young as ever, but having made the fatal mistake of popping in my new contact lenses before making coffee.  Lines had sprouted above my lip, eyelids had gone crepey, crow’s feet had overtaken the corners of my astonished eyes, and mysterious marionette lines, the final ignominy, were making the lower half of my face resemble Howdy Doody.

I should have expected it, I suppose.  My reading glasses had hinted at the decimation of the decades as birthdays with zeroes stacked up.  But the blessing of gently fuzzying vision had allowed me my happy illusions.  Who knew that contact lenses were this unforgiving and mean-spirited?  Or that reading glasses had let me happily maintain my oblivion while Middle Age crept in on little cat feet.

“I’ll have to have a face lift as a Public Service,” I told my then-teenaged Dakota.  

“Don’t be ridiculous, Mom,” she answered.  “You just have to throw away the stupid contact lenses.  They’re all that’s different about your face since yesterday.”

Woman Looking in MirrorBut she was only half-right.  The genie was out of the bottle and I was officially, in my own head, finally Middle Aged.  It was like that great  line in a Bob Seger song, “wish I didn’t know now what I didn’t know then.”  I’d been happily convinced that even after the half century mark, I was young, and all those classmates of mine at the reunion had looked so much older than I because they hadn’t taken care of themselves.  I call it the Rip Van Winkle Effect – you go to sleep younger than Springtime and wake up in your dotage.

Which is when the great winnowing out began, I think.  First, the panic, then the diligent Fountain of Youth search, then the heady realization that I’m as young today as I’ll ever get to be!  The last one hit me like a tsunami of sudden understanding, a million little truths hidden in one great wave.  The realization that once you pass the half century mark, simply being alive is both privilege and joy beyond reckoning – one you’d better make the most of and stop bellyaching about the small stuff.

Middle Age CrisisRip Van Winkle aside,  I’ve also awakened to the fact that mid-life brings blessings as well as diminishments.  A little more time for self once your children are raised… more confidence and self-determination… more understanding of life’s vicissitudes…more ability to roll with the punches… more profound appreciation of the magnificent and the mundane.  A deep desire to find time to frivol with the things you want to do, not those you have to do, while you’re waiting for enlightenment to set in.

One day, if I’m lucky enough, I may wake up to find I’ve actually grown old.  I’m hoping to handle it better than I did the shock of middle age.  Maybe by then I’ll be wise enough to know it’s all just part of the Continuum and every decade brings blessings as well as travail.  Or maybe Max Buxbaum was right after all.  It’s nice to think your beauty just shifts parking places with the years, a movable feast that nourishes from different venues in different decades.  I hope on the day I wake up old, whatever beauty I’ve accumulated along the way will be firmly planted in my heart – and I hope it won’t have much to do with what  I see in the mirror.


 © Cathy Cash Spellman/The Wild Harp & Co. Inc 2012


Posted on October 13th 2012 in Women

4 Responses to “The Rip Van Winkle Effect”

  1. Satia Says:

    I needed the reminder as I’ve been noticing certain things changing on my face that just baffle me. Was it always like that? Or am I really aging? I mean aging? Me? Cannot possibly be happening.

    It is and it is a privilege indeed.

  2. Cathy Says:

    I smiled when I read your comment because I very nearly titled this blog “Me Aging? Really?” Thanks so much for affirming what a lovely privilege we’ve been given.

  3. Gerry Says:

    “It’s nice to think your beauty just shifts parking places with the years, a movable feast that nourishes from different venues in different decades.” That is one of the greatest lines I’ve ever read! I think I currently reside in the “long term parking lot”.

  4. Cathy Says:

    You just made me laugh out loud!I love the idea of the long term parking lot, Gerry…maybe that’s the very best place for any of us to be. Here’s to our movable feast of beauty and life!

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