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Pausing to see how wild my hair looks as I pass the locker-room mirror after my shower this morning, I'm referred to by a pretty, shiny-white-haired woman. She looks at another woman and speaks to her while pointing to me, "When I see you and that young lady [she's referring to me!], swimming, I feel like a has-been. You're such strong swimmers."
I'm caught off-guard. Me, young? Her comment's so gratifying, but I feel bad to have prompted her sense that she lacks vigor. How can I respond graciously? I blow it: "Thank you and I hope to be swimming for a long time [like you obviously have been doing]." I slink to my locker, feeling ill-equipped socially.
Changing from my white beach-towel into my gray, wool suit and purple, cashmere turtleneck for work, I flash back to Monday evening, my first class of the Spring semester in my Education Masters program.
Understanding What It's Like to Feel Ancient
There are two others among the overflowing 14 of us, who are my age or older. Otherwise, everyone in the room looks to be directly out of ungrad., and most are women.
I'm torn: They're beautiful and at the same time, I'm feeling competitive with them in terms of appearance, and in despair that I cannot compete; it's my classic dilemma as a competitive lesbian: Often, when I see a gorgeous woman, I am moved by her beauty and then cannot just purely enjoy it; I compare myself to her.
Now, I need to share how I relate to this older woman's experience with her:
"Excuse me [I must speak up, as she's apparently hard of hearing], excuse me; your compliment made my day and I need to tell you that your point about feeling like a has-been reminded me of how I felt on Monday night. I'm 42, and I'm back in school, for my Masters."
"Oh, that's nice. In what?"
I tell her and she tells me that she went back for her Masters in Education, also, at 41.
"Your point about feeling older reminded me of how I felt in class on Monday night. So many of my classmates were so, so much younger than I, and I felt bad...but there's a happy ending to both our stories, if you think about it: I'm still in school and you're still in the pool."
"Yes, but you get my point, right? We're very alive, being where we are."
"I'm 77 and I wish the rest of me looked as good as my hair," she said. "After all that, what's your name?"
We introduced ourselves and I felt so much lighter afterwards. To a 77-year-old, I guess I am a young lady.