This morning was one of those where an inadvertent glance in the mirror on the way downstairs tells you that you need a comb. And coffee. Lots of coffee. Annoying really as I had slept fairly well for a change. But the morning likes to throw these things at you and knowing I had a tough day and a hospital appointment I wasn’t looking forward to, life, it seemed, wasn’t going to make things easy.
I had a conversation about life with my son over lunch today. We have some good ones. He was speaking about how he views the past three years of constant hard work as an investment in life. In his view, he could have accepted the minimal recovery he had, learned to cope with it and enjoyed himself as much as possible. But instead he chose to invest time and hard work in his recovery, spending almost every waking hour working body and mind in any and every therapeutic way possible.
The analogy he gave was that of two bottles. One full of cordial, diluted with water, the other half full of pure cordial. The first seems like more but the contents are weak, the second, less in volume, is concentrated, pure flavour. He has chosen to invest the time now and even though they are years he will never see again he chooses to live his future equipped for a concentrated life full of the richest experience he can.
Which, as you may expect, set me thinking. If you read my meanderings you’ll have noticed by now that it doesn’t take a lot to set me off.
I remember as a very little girl being fascinated by people’s faces. It wasn’t so much the features as the textures of their skin. There was the paternal Great Grandmother. I have a very early memory of her home, dark and quiet, all red velvet and mahogany with stuffed animals and birds under glass domes and the heavy curtains closed against the light. There was a coal fire in an ornate black grate, the mantle fringed with velvet bobbles. Something straight out of the Victorian era, which, of course, she was. I had been taken along as the family said their goodbyes and remember pristine linen sheets on what seemed a huge carved bed, draped with heavy curtains and Great Grandmother propped on the pillows, hushed voices all around.
Kissing her cheek, her skin was dry and thin, folded like tissue paper, fragile as a winter leaf. She smelled faintly of roses though. Her hands fluttered as if to speak and her lips were pale, the skin almost transparent. I don’t suppose I was much more than three.
I remember the maternal grandparents with greater clarity. Grandma with her round, rosy cheeks and crinkly eyes. She was always smiling and laughing and the naughtiness and joy just shone from her. Great Granddad with waxy smooth skin, crackled with spider veins over his cheeks that fascinated the small child. I still remember sitting on his knee and tracing them with my finger while he explained that they were the kiss of the wind and rain on his face. And then there was Great Grandma, in the chair in the corner. She had been an invalid for many years, suffering a degenerative physical illness that must have left her in great pain much of the time.
Her skin was a beautiful texture, still creamy and velvety to touch. Yet the wrinkles wrote the story of the pain and a certain bitterness on her face. As the years passed and gravity began to win, her face drooped into folds that wrote of decades of discomfort.
By the time I was in my teens it had been noted that I bear a strong resemblance to my Great Grandmother. I had no problem with that, she was accounted a beauty in her youth…though I, of course, fragile teenager that I was, never saw that reflected… only the family features. But I resolved then and there that I would write my own wrinkles. And they would reflect not pain but laughter.
It was probably the best decision I ever made.
I have smiled through some pretty rough times. It is useful as a mask to hide behind when we don’t want the world to intrude or to see. It can hide the loudest cry of the heart sometimes. It allowed me to smile for my sons when I felt I was being rent asunder. But most of all, it allowed me to find joy in living.
It is, of course physically easier to smile than to frown. The chemical and emotional benefits are well documented. But there has to be something to smile at if you are going to make a habit of it. So it opened my eyes to the world in a new way. I began to see the small beauties, noticed the sheen on a pigeon’s breast, the powdery softness of a butterfly’s wing, the sheer exuberance of a bank of dandelions in the sunshine and the way a bumblebee looks as if it should be stroked. I became aware of the world, and as I did so it became alive to me in a way it had not been before. And in turn, I became alive to it.
The more I smiled, the more I saw to smile at… in nature, in people, in myself. Writing my wrinkles is a daily adventure I shall never tire of. Each one tells a story and I wear them with ease and no regrets. I simply wonder what the next chapter holds…..