May my teaching drop like the rain, my speech condense like the dew; like gentle rain on grass, like showers on new growth. (Deut 32:2)
I just turned thirty-late a few days ago and much to my chagrin I am not aging gracefully. I have no delight in getting older. Which in my opinion is really a shame because I come from a West African culture where aging is synonymous with wisdom, increasing respect, and a sense of personal freedom. I also happen to come from a line of women for whom the physical aging process seems to slow way down around 35. The women in my family NEVER look their age, to the extent that I sometimes gaze at my 53-year old aunt and wonder if I’d actually introduce her to my boyfriend. Maybe after the wedding. So what is my problem? If I get into it you will probably have to bill me by the end.
Sure, we live in a society obsessed with youth. Every other advertisement for women has something to do with looking younger, feeling younger, and simply resisting the natural aging process not just physically but in my opinion mentally and emotionally as well. And some days I admit I drink the poisoned Kool-Aid. Actually, about two weeks before my birthday I get drunk on the Kool-Aid. I begin to believe what this society, and let’s face it, most of the world suggests to me about women who get older. I start to lose my balance and foolishly agree to the “Trust-Fall” game with bottom dollar companies that have no vested interest in my real flourishing and well-being. In my dizzying, mumbling stupor I forget all the countless sundry things for which I am deeply grateful.
I forget that you couldn’t pay me to go back to my twenties. I forget how much I have grown into a widening and deepening sense of self in the last decade, how much courage and strength I’ve mustered up with each unexpected life blow that tends to come as we get older. I forget that my view on relationships is so much healthier now that I’ve lived a little, loved a little, hurt a lot. I forget that the sort of enriching and often salvific friendships I have cultivated need years and years of tending. I forget how my learning to cohabitate with a God I’m not always sure I want to live with but without whom I couldn’t breathe has required the patience and humility that only comes with time. I forget the way that God who exists outside of time calls me to re-narrate my purpose, my life, and my beauty in ways that have to make room at the center for the voices and faces and bodies of others. And when I forget I have to turn to those who believe God’s re-narration to remind me of what’s what.
So on the occasion of my thirty-late birthday while I was getting drunk on Kool-Aid, I found a modicum of level-headedness to call for help. I contacted five of my truth-telling girlfriends and asked them to come over to my house for red wine, cake and intercessory prayer. I told them this was serious. The Kool-Aid bottle was practically empty. This required laying on of hands type of prayer. I told them what I was most deeply afraid off as another year went by. I told them about the societal and cultural lies I was most tempted to believe. I told them how I was wearing the truth of God’s story like a holey, tattered blanket belted at the waist and how I needed them to knit me back into the holes so it’d be harder to know where the flesh of my story ends and the flesh of God’s story starts. These women came over. We drank wine, we ate cake, we took a 30-minute break to watch the latest episode of “New Girl.” Then they gave me my present, a new waffle maker that I’ve coveted for a long time, the kind that rotates like at the breakfast lineup in hotels. Then they gathered all around me, laid hands on me and prayed words that rained down on me like healing. It was the most sobering twenty minutes I’ve experienced in a long time.