Wisdom comes with winters
― Oscar Wilde
I turned 50 this year, and I can feel the shift. My face is no longer gently rounded by its own collagen and taut with the effortless elasticity of youth. There are inscriptions of my years around my mouth, wrinkle wings of worry line my eyes, and the newly acquired “middle-aged spread” is causing me more angst than I’d like to admit. There are so many changes, and they sneak in stealthily, making me feel as if I am disappearing, one furrow at a time.
It has been a strange transition for me. I so enjoyed the explosion of insights and settled confidence that marked my 40’s. I never stopped to consider the impact of my advancing years until the day of my 50th birthday. Even at 49, I was young and intriguing, but at the dawning of a new year, I was suddenly hurled into a strange land of invisibility when I still feel like a girl inside.
I am a woman of deep introspection and a certain level of professional competence. And suddenly, it’s like I have vanished from the room, leaving me to resort to a high volume just to be seen and heard. I wander like a speck of dust in the air, waiting for a shaft of light.
What is it about mature women that the world seems to find so unpalatable? What is it that frightens women, so about the march of time? Maybe it is rooted in the sense of loss. But what if the very thing that is slipping away from us in the outer world is an inner gain? What if it is a mistake in an unapologetically materialistic culture to imagine that we lose our beauty with age? What if one of the gifts of our advancing years is a sort of raucous, outrageous liberty to embrace our natural changes free from the vanity of youth? What if invisibility is inherently powerful?
I am learning that a reduced sense of visibility does not necessarily constrain experience. With it comes substantial empathy and expansive compassion; invisibility moves us toward a broader view of the world. And the shift in status can sustain and inform—rather than limit—our lives. Invisibility does not mean inadequacy. It does not lessen my value or voice.
Sometimes God allows us to journey through seasons of “sifting” to sort out the real from the unreal, and the trash from the true. They are gathering, winnowing, and harvesting times. With aging, our external allure may shift. Still, the years also offer the unique opportunity to make better choices, learn from our missteps, and pass on our knowledge of life, perhaps even bits of wisdom, to the women waiting in the wings.
This new invisibility is a source of both terror and comfort to me. My ability to thrive in this season will require me to find a subtle balance between interesting and invisible. There is a renewed urgency of sorts, to develop what I do, what I put my hands on in the world.
The seasons and roles in my life are changing dramatically. I am reconstructing my own identity, who I am, and where I fit in. Perhaps I feel invisible to others partly because I don’t even recognize myself.
My body has run marathons and birthed five babies. It has served me well. This body has earned its lines and pouches and sunspots. It has been lived in, fully and fruitfully. But here’s the thing, it deserves to be celebrated, not ignored. In this new chapter, women need to find the places and the people with whom we feel most alive. And at the end of the day, it is up to me to see myself and define my worth and value to the world
Despite this new sense of invisibility, I am learning that it may just be a gift, a new superpower that I didn’t realize would be so potent. It only renders me invisible to those who think aging means the end of everything, who value youth over experience, and external beauty over knowledge and insight. As I’ve aged, I’ve developed an acute sense of courage and strength. I am happily single and don’t feel incomplete without a partner. As I’ve gotten older, I’ve come to enjoy my own company – when I was younger, I was always scratching and seeking to make sure every space in my life was full.
It’s going to take work to push back against societal expectations of older women, but I’m game. I want to age with zest, tenacity, and defiant poise rather than the vanilla standard of aging gracefully. As my generation approaches 50 and beyond, the antiquated rules need not apply. We have the exciting opportunity to rewrite the rule book on aging. It isn’t that we can or even want to stop growing old; instead, we must harness our power to decide how to approach and define its impact.
I am still warming up to the idea that I am now at an age I once considered ancient. But I will march forward, though mostly invisible, into the future. There is, however, one thing I can assure, even as you look right through me, you will know that I am here.