We asked women in their 40s, 50s, 60s, 70s, and 80s to write short personal essays answering the question, What does aging gracefully mean to you? Each one is a window into the mental and physical lives of women as they grow older. This essay is by 53-year-old Jo Moseley, beachcomber and writer and producer of the short film Small Things Great Love. Watch for more submissions all this month and submit your own essay to firstname.lastname@example.org.
It’s a chilly, bright blue skies autumn Sunday morning in Yorkshire, and I am warming up after a dip in the North Sea. My body tingles with the thrill of the cold water. My heart is full, my soul soothed by the waves.
With a cup of steaming tea, I open the email I’ve been expecting from The Fine Line. I’m thrilled to be among a group of women ages to 40 to 90 invited to write personal essays on aging. I’m eager to hear more from this brilliant platform for women in midlife. It’s all reading well — until I see, Please explore what aging gracefully means.
My heart sinks.
Really? Gracefully? Me? I wonder if maybe they have mistaken me for someone else. Have they not seen my Instagram account? Photos in which I am red and sweaty from a run in the hills? With bedraggled hair in my wetsuit after bodyboarding? Posing not with a glass of wine and designer handbag but pieces of litter I have collected on my beach cleans?
The email continues: You can embrace those words or reject them. Explore why your path is different.
Phew! I am relieved. As I share my thoughts on being 53, I can reject the idea of aging gracefully, too.
The reason? It feels too confined. Too prescriptive. Too neat. Someone else’s ideal but certainly not mine. As someone who has loyally followed all the rules, sometimes at the expense of personal goals and happiness, my 50s are allowing an unexpected freedom.
I worry less about what others think of me. I have a confidence I could only dream of in my 20s, an inner strength won through struggles, doubts, and disappointments.
I worry less about what others think of me. I have a confidence I could only dream of in my 20s, an inner strength won through struggles, doubts, and disappointments. I understand more intimately what lights up my soul and what I hope to accomplish in the future. I say “yes” and “no” with more discernment and greater conviction. I am willing to try new things. I wrote adventure poetry for a competition; I didn’t win and that was fine! I made a short film selected for festival screening in front of an appreciative audience in London. I risk failing because I know what it takes to pick myself up and rise again. I have discovered that there is victory in the achievement — and also in the simple act of trying. I am learning to be brave — not because life demands that I must as in the past (miscarriage, divorce, bereavement) — but because I choose to.
I have been to too many funerals of friends in their 40s to be anything but grateful for my health. Yes, I need my specs and lose my keys more often. Yes, it took me three days of wipeouts to stand up on a surfboard and ride a wave. (I sang with joy for those brief, life-changing four seconds!) But I am here and well and deeply thankful that each day I get the opportunity to discover and delight in life.
I want less stuff and more experiences. My plan is to tread a little lighter on the world and make conscious choices about how I spend hard-earned money. I appreciate tiny moments of connection walking down the street, smiling and chatting with neighbors and strangers alike. Those small gestures and routines make up the joyful fabric of my life. Relationships are treasured above all else.
Flying solo for 12 years with my sons will always be the essence of who I am. Yet as they leave the nest and seek their own adventures, so will I.
Aging gracefully captures neither my soul nor my imagination. But aging bravely, joyfully, gratefully, and purposefully do.
I’m excited about stepping into the unknown. Who wants to join me?
To learn more about Jo Moseley, follow her on Instagram.