A woman in her fifties recently told me about a dream she had had. In the dream she was at a party and saw a tall, attractive man in his early thirties standing alone with a drink in his hand. The woman went over to talk to the man; in the dream she was young again and single, and this situation meant a possible romantic opportunity. With a winning smile, she tried to engage the man in conversation, only to find that his gaze had alighted elsewhere, and with a curt nod and a polite smile, the man excused himself and moved away. The scene shifted and the woman found herself in the bathroom, looking at her fifties face in the mirror. She started to cry.
There is a part of us that ages-our body, primarily-and a part that doesn’t. The part that doesn’t age has something to do with the mind, but it isn’t the mind as we usually think of it; our mental faculties of memory and concentration begin to slowly subside with age just as the body does. But our primary or innate awareness, our feeling of being alive, of just being here, doesn’t age.
It is as bright as always, like a candle flame that puts out steady light, whether the candle is new, half gone, or almost out. Woman especially, but men too, encounter those awkward and depressing moments when we realize that we are no longer attractive, that younger people of both sexes look at us differently than we look at ourselves.
The trick is to pay attention to the flame, and not the candle. The flame of a candle half gone may burn just as it did at the beginning, but by now it has burned longer, and it knows something about burning. Innate awareness never ages, though the body does, and maturity and wisdom is the compensation for what time eases from our grasp.