It’s New Year’s Eve. 2019. I’m 3000 feet in the air in between London and Rome. Between time zones. Between years and decades. It’s got me thinking.
What do we really feel about it?
I turn the page of the free aeroplane magazine decorated with a beautiful, young, woman who looks almost aroused by her age-reversing 2% retinol cream.
Judging by the multi-billion-dollar anti-aging market, we are not so keen.
I like to think of myself as being above the superficial obsession with youth. Of course, I intellectually understand that real beauty comes from within. I understand that, as women, we get more attractive when we have lived a life and are filled with wisdom and experience and self love... and yet I still pluck away my newly arriving grey hairs and spend way too long getting the right light in selfies.
Are we all just destined for this? Is the loss of our youth simply a painful process that underpins the human experience? And if it is, what are we meant to learn from it? Humility? Compassion? A great age defying moisturizer?
Or are we missing something by thinking of this as a superficial issue? Is it not perhaps hiding something deeper? The grey hairs, the changing teeth, the sag of the skin – they are all there as unmistakeable reminders of our mortality.
The one guarantee in life.
We avoid talking about death, we avoid dead bodies, and we even avoid alive people dealing with dead people. And yet I think deep down we all know that this isn’t healthy.
So, is there a positive to be found in this savage aging process? Is there a way of looking at this as a journey - a lesson - of gain and not loss?
I turn the page. A tall, dark, predictably handsome man drives a sports car around the corner of a cliff. He is older than the aroused beautiful woman but none-the-less attractive. Distinguished, with a look that suggests he is thinking about murder and sex and kittens, in his car that is shiny and expensive and only €29,995 on the road.
We come into this world as a novice who receives their first car but is unable to drive.
At first, we are unaware of what driving a car consists of. As babies we must learn our bodies just as we learn what an indicator or accelerator does. But we quickly learn the rules of the road. If we behave a certain way, other drivers won’t like us and we may end up scraping our beautiful shiny new cars.
By adolescence we are able to try driving alone - and it’s exciiiiiiting. The destination is unimportant, just being out on the road of life with control of the wheel is enough! We drive for the sake of it. We want to be out on the road, with the other cars. We sometimes drive recklessly, especially if we have not been taught to drive well in our formative years. We find ourselves in strange and unfamiliar locations and wonder how we got there. We start to be aware of our model and make of car. Brand names. Countries of origin. Everyone wants a German whip.
We completely forget that we are separate from our vehicles.
The pull to self-identify is strong. If I’m given a jet black fast sleek sports car to live my life in, then I perhaps look for other jet black fast sleek sports cars to drive with. If I’m born in an era when jet black fast sleek sports cars are deemed too powerful, then they may be feared, especially in groups. They may be penalised and pulled over regularly. Or they may be idolised and objectified. Or both.
Of course, the car is only a car - and only the driver on the inside can determine the ride. But it’s easy to forget when out on the road and all you see is the bodywork.
Once we reach our twenties we are more used to driving out alone in the world. The late-night joy rides are less important, and we start to think more about the destination we are heading towards and what direction other cars are going in. We may worry about taking a wrong turn, some of us constantly look in the rear-view mirror to see other cars behind us, fearing they may overtake. Some of us go round in circles, some of us follow top performing (usually modified) cars, and others race to their chosen destination.
In full adulthood we are used to the way we drive. It’s now automatic. We may well have picked up little habits along the way, but we don’t really notice. Actually, we tend to notice other’s driving habits more than our own. Some of us may repeat certain journeys or begin to favour certain roads and some will be fuelled by the desire to get to our dream destination. We choose our lane, we navigate hard and we accelerate to somewhere.
Once the thirties and forties are underway some of these driving habits start to show up in our vehicles. We start to look at where we are and wonder how we got there. Some of us will breakdown. Most of us will already have a few bumps and scratches on our cars.
Many of us will spend a lot of time in the garage trying to improve our bodywork. Some of us will start to compare ourselves with younger models. New cars appear on billboards. Everywhere. And this only highlights our older models. The once sought after porches and BMWs seem to suffer the most from this. (The black cars tend to wear surprisingly well.)
As we approach middle-age we are hit with a choice - to focus even more of our attention on our car’s status and condition, or to begin to look out the window more and more. To remember that we are not our machine, we just have them as a wonderful means to get around this world. We can choose to nurture and nourish our vehicles– not because they define us, but because we need them to help us navigate this thing called life.
And yes, we need services and good fuel and an occasional tyre change for the optimum travel experience and longevity. Our cars are aging and not all go the distance. But rather than fighting this, we must surely learn to marvel at where they have travelled, the journeys they have taken us on and instead welcome the reminder that we are within our vehicles.
This might feel frightening. And sad. And overwhelming. But it’s simply true. Just as we learned to drive at the beginning of our lives, we must learn to detach from our vehicles. We will perhaps laugh at how we once lost ourselves in our vehicles believing them to be us. We will sigh at the effort gone into identifying ourselves as simply a make and model.
We will still enjoy our vehicles but we will enjoy more our view of the world. It’s beauty, it’s colour, it’s many paths and routes and experiences. We will, if lucky, look through the window of other cars and catch a glimpse of their drivers. If they are indeed looking back at us, we will smile, knowingly.
Then one day our car will stop. Who knows when or how
At first, we will be surprised, some shocked even.
But we will reach for the door and we will open it.
And we will step out of our 70+ year old automobile (if we are lucky) and we will put our feet on the earth and walk.
We will walk forward amazed and in awe and in beauty. We will be free of our cumbersome vehicles and there will no longer be a separation between us and the world. Between us and the air and the earth and the fire and the sea. Between us. Between us and the ultimate beauty of life. And death.
I turn the page of the free aeroplane magazine with the twenty-something-year-old-blonde-Italian-woman holding the age-reversal retinol-serum with manicured nails. I consider ordering it. But then look at the price. Instead, I look out of the window and think of Rome and my lover who awaits me and my first grey hairs.