Sunday, 11 October 2015
I grow old, I grow old, I shall wear the waists of my trousers elasticated
I am sorry T. S. Eliot but I think the abuses of old age on my body require more than a simple rolling of the cuffs of my trousers. After birthing four children my aged stomach is much more in need of the gentle touch of an elasticated waist, or at the very least a heavy dose of Lycra to soften the harsh pull of denim.
I recently went to see one of my favourite bands play, the Barenaked Ladies, whose name is their most risque feature. This bunch of ageing Canadian rockers kicked off their show with a song called 'Get Back Up', which is essentially about picking yourself up, dusting yourself off, and getting back to living life after the slings and arrows of life have given you a good old kicking (forgive my mixing of metaphors). If you want to read all the lyrics they're here.
Later during the show, the lead singer Ed Robertson, announced that he was 44. Just the same age as me. My first reaction was a bit of a shock, what with his greying hair I had assumed he had a few years on me, but then I remembered that if I were to stop slathering my own locks in L'Oreal dye (because I'm worth it) I would swiftly become just as grey.
This combination of factors led me to a meditation on ageing. Well in between singing along to the unsurpassable 'If I had a million dollars', watching my 11-year-old beam when they sang his favourite song, the theme from the Big Bang Theory and trying to clap without aggravating my arthritic fingers.
Going to a concert always takes me back to my youth. I was never one of those cool kids who saw all the latest indie bands, but growing up in Brussels meant that I could see all the acts that were topping the charts in the UK, long before the Belgian teens had worked out who they were. I was treated to virtually one-on-one performances from 80s pop sensations Howard Jones and Nik Kershaw. If you remember those names then welcome to my club.
But Ed's grey hair and the bittersweet lyrics got me to thinking about how my life has changed over the decades that separate my experience of bopping to 'Wouldn't it be good' in a sweaty Brussels nightclub, to sitting in a comfy seat in the O2 Indigo with easy access to the toilets, watching grey haired men singing about growing old.
Apart from the obvious fact that proximity to a toilet probably wasn't such a concern pre-children, it was that a song about being kicked to the ground and getting back up again, bruised, perhaps even scarred, but alive, resonated with me far more deeply than it would have done when I was a teenybopper.
I used to think I was invincible. That whatever life threw at me I could simply deflect it like Teflon. That to be happy was a natural state. Now I look back on those days with the same nostalgia I feel when I recall how easy it was to fit into a size 8 skirt. I took for granted the simplicity of feeling happy and normal, just as I took for granted that everything in the shop would fit.
My goodness how life has taught me a lesson since then. I have ridden the waves of divorce, estrangement from my most beloved people, deaths and regrets. I have birthed four children, which was painful, stressful, joyful and blissful. I have collapsed in a soggy, weak heap under the pressure of depression, anxiety and insomnia. I have realised that I cannot cope, but that I simply have to.
I have built and lost careers, I have wasted talent and profited from it. I have seen friends soar, and felt that choking mix of pride and envy at their good fortune. I have realised that I will never be rich, or famous, or beautiful, I have realised that really, that's OK.
I have learned to see joy in the small things, because sometimes the big things are so grim it is hard to see a chink of light. To understand that a day can be switched from bad to good, simply by appreciating the glint of dew on a glossy, green holly leaf, or by dragging your exhausted, unwilling body out of bed and into the sunshine, or by a hug from an oblivious child.
I have come to understand the enormous power our own minds play in how life treats us. Of how easy it is to be washed away under tides of misplaced adrenaline that flush through you when your mind randomly opens the floodgates to your fears. But equally how deep breaths and fixing yourself in the present can help you to put your shoulder to those gates and hem in the fears once again.
I have learned what it means to unconditionally love someone. To care so much that their life counts for so much more than your own. To get wrapped up so deeply in the needs of someone else that you can lose sight of yourself. To have children.
Life has changed me, just as it changes all of us, and in some ways I miss the simplicity of youth. It's not that being young is easy, it's just that the challenges I faced didn't seem so insurmountable, I suppose because there were so many second chances ahead of me and it always felt as if someone else was in charge. But that said, growing up has given me a depth and understanding of the complexities of life that I am not sure I would swap to go back to that easier version of myself.
Of course I hate the hard days and then I would gladly throw away everything I have learned in exchange for some peace, to be able to relax, to feel the tension ease from my body, to relax, to sleep as if it were the most natural thing in the world. But paradoxically, I love that I am beginning to see that this kind of turmoil forces you to stop, to look at the world and seek out those tiny drops of happiness it hides round every corner. To spot all those things I would have missed if life had been easier.
So yes, perhaps it is all about the ride....the ups, the downs and the blessed calm bits in between.