Dear reader, Please don’t stop reading until you get to the end of this post. In the middle it takes a turn you won’t want to miss. So bear with me, through the fall to the leap of faith.
It was I who took a bad fall about two weeks ago. Ironically, just one hour before delivering an AARP “Home Fit” program on “how to make your home safe and accessible for all ages”. My own foolish fault, of course. I wasn’t wearing the sling around my ankle that would otherwise have kept me in my sandals when my left toe encountered that recently delivered carton in the front hall.
Instead, I went airborne and landed in a loud and (literally, breath-taking) WHOMP against the hardwood floor. After many minutes of gasping for breath I was able to gingerly roll over onto my back and then, minutes later with my chagrined husband’s assistance, get vertical. Thus we concluded that all my parts were working, no broken bones, only major bruising (chin, cheek, right knee, both wrists, left ribs, left breast) and cartilage, let’s just say, “beat up and repositioned”. Ouchy, ouchy!
The timer commenced on healing. Ice. Heat. Rest if you can. No lifting. Try not to sneeze. Use your left hand to stir the pot and brush your teeth. And the timer on healing runs slower as we age, doesn’t it? I come away from this incident believing the reason we’re given that extra time is so that we can use it to pay attention to the way the wrist bone actually does connect to the arm bone, the chin connects with the ear, the cartilage connects with the depth of sleep (or lack thereof). I’d like to believe it was my regular three day a week Wii Fit Plus workout that helped my body rebound from the floor and from the bruising as quickly as it has. But I’m even more certain that the sweet mass of grey matter encased in the hard shell atop the human spinal column is a huge contributor to how we relate to our physical self, in sickness and in health.
Here are some thoughts on how our minds influence our body perception and how our minds are influenced to form their perceptions on beauty in aging, from Ursula LeGuin in her essay, “Dogs, Cats, and Dancers: Thoughts about Beauty”. [Note: I discovered the essay by Ms. LeGuin in one of my favorite weekly newsletters, Brain Pickings, by Maria Popova. You can subscribe here.]
Who I am is certainly part of how I look and vice versa. I want to know where I begin and end, what size I am, and what suits me… I am not “in” this body, I am this body. Waist or no waist.
But all the same, there’s something about me that doesn’t change, hasn’t changed, through all the remarkable, exciting, alarming, and disappointing transformations my body has gone through. There is a person there who isn’t only what she looks like, and to find her and know her I have to look through, look in, look deep. Not only in space, but in time.
There’s the ideal beauty of youth and health, which never really changes, and is always true. There’s the ideal beauty of movie stars and advertising models, the beauty-game ideal, which changes its rules all the time and from place to place, and is never entirely true. And there’s an ideal beauty that is harder to define or understand, because it occurs not just in the body but where the body and the spirit meet and define each other.
And finally, here’s the leap of faith I promised you. Pole artist Greta Pontarelli inspires us with her strength, artistry and can-do attitude in the unlikely art of pole dancing, which is dominated by younger women. “We all get challenged by new things or intimidated by them, thinking, ‘Oh, I couldn’t do that.’ … The biggest fear that I have is not doing something that was meaningful when I’m old,” she says. Watch her journey to winning three world championships.