Coming of Age

[Here’s a depressing, but insightful and well-written piece to start your day. SB SM]

The Washington Post: Democracy Dies in Darkness

Opinion  It’s good to remember: We are all on borrowed time

By Anne Lamott

October 30, 2023 at 6:00 a.m. EDT

Anne Lamott is an American novelist and nonfiction writer. Her latest book, “Somehow: Thoughts on Love,” will be published in April 2024.

Getting older is almost like changing species, from cute middle-aged, white-tailed deer, to yak. We are both grass eaters, but that’s about the only similarity. At the Safeway sushi bar during lunchtime, I look at the teenage girls in their crop tops with their stupid flat tummies and I feel bad about what lies beneath my big, forgiving shirts but — and this is one of the blessings of aging — not for long. Aging has brought a modicum of self-compassion, and acceptance of what my husband and I call “the Sitch”: the bodily and cognitive decline that we all face sooner or later. Still, at Safeway, I can’t help but avert my eyes. Why push my luck?

extreme close up photo of wrinkled skin
Photo by SHVETS production on

Twenty years ago, when I turned 50, I showed the dark age spots on my arms and the backs of my hands to my wonderful dermatologist.

“They used to call these liver spots,” I said, laughing.

There was silence. “They still call them liver spots,” he replied.

My mother died of Alzheimer’s disease when I was 50; my father had died of brain cancer 25 years before, so I have always been a bit more tense than the average bear about increasing holes in my memory, and more egregious moments of dither. I thought of my 50s as late middle age.

At 60, I tried to get this same dermatologist to authorize surgery to remove the pile of skin of my upper eyelid that gathered like a broken Roman shade at the eyelash line. “Look,” I said, “the eyelid has consumed my eyeball. I will not be able to see soon.”

I pulled out an inch of skin to demonstrate my infirmity.

He pulled out three inches of his own. “Ticktock,” he said. And he was right. All things skin had gone to hell, from the crepe of my forearms to lots of new precancerous lesions that he routinely froze off or biopsied, once making me use a horrible burning cream all over my face that turned me into Peeling Tomato Girl.

So many indignities are involved in aging, and yet so many graces, too. The perfectionism that had run me ragged and has kept me scared and wired my whole life has abated. The idea of perfectionism at 60 is comical when, like me, you’ve worn non-matching black flats out on stage. In my experience, most of us age away from brain and ambition toward heart and soul, and we bathe in relief that things are not worse. When I was younger, I was fixated on looking good and impressing people and being so big in the world. By 60, I didn’t care nearly as much what people thought of me, mostly.

And anyway, you know by 60 that people are rarely thinking of you. They are thinking about their own finances, family problems and upper arms.

extreme close up photo of an elderly person s eye
Photo by SHVETS production on

I have no idea of the process that released some of that clench and self-consciousness, except that by a certain age some people beloved to me had died. And then you seriously get real about how short and precious life is. You have bigger fish to fry than your saggy butt. Also, what more can you lose, and what more can people do to you that age has not already done? You thought you could physically do this or that — i.e., lift the dog into the back seat — but two weeks later your back is still complaining. You thought that your mind was thrilling to others, but it turns out that not everyone noticed, and now they’re just worried because your shoes don’t match.

Anyway, as my dermatologist hinted, the tock did tick, and one day he was gone. He retired. Then last year, I heard he died.

Which brings us to death, deathly old death. At a few months shy of 70, with eyeballs squinting through the folds, I now face the possibility that I might die someday. My dad said after his cancer diagnosis that we are all on borrowed time, and it is good to be reminded of this now and again. It’s a great line, and the third-most-popular conversation we oldies have with each other, after the decline of our bodies and the latest senior moments: how many memorial services we go to these days.

Some weeks, it feels as though there is a sniper in the trees, picking off people we have loved for years. It breaks your heart, but as Carly Simon sang, there is more room in a broken heart. My heart is the roomiest it has ever been.

I do live in my heart more, which is hard in its own ways, but the blessing is that the yammer in my head is quieter, the endless questioning: What am I supposed to be doing? Is this the right thing? What do you think of that? What does he think of that?

My parents and the culture told me that I would be happier if I did a certain thing, or stopped doing that, or tried harder and did better. But as my great friend Father Terry Richey said, it’s not about trying harder; it’s about resisting less. This is right up aging’s alley. Some days are sweet, some are just too long.

persons left hand
Photo by Ave Calvar Martinez on

A lot of us thought when we were younger that we might want to stretch ourselves into other areas, master new realms. Now, I know better. I’m happy with the little nesty areas that are mine. For some reason, I love my softer, welcoming tummy. I laugh gently more often at darling confused me’s spaced-outed ness, although I’m often glad no one was around to witness my lapses.

Especially my son, who frequently and jovially brings up He’ll say, “I found you a really nice place nearby, where they’ll let you have a little dog!” Recently, I was graciously driving him and his teenage son somewhere and made a tiny driving mistake hardly worth mentioning — I did not hit anyone, nor did I leave the filling station with the nozzle still in the gas tank — and he said to his boy just loud enough so that I could hear, “I’m glad we live so close to town, so it won’t be as hard for her when we have to take away her keys.”

I roared with laughter, and with love, and with an ache in my heart for something I can’t name.

[Here’s a reminder to take a little time to do some good along the way.]

2 thoughts on “Coming of Age

  1. Nice, tender commentary on the process we all will go through, if we’re that lucky. Acceptance and humor are valuable traits we all can use more of, whether we are seniors (I am) or not.

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