Good Morning, Grandma

Good Morning, Grandma

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Reader's Choice 20th Anniversary Edition

Good Morning, Grandma

Nobody grows old merely by living a number of years. We grow old by deserting our ideals. Years may wrinkle the skin, but to give up enthusiasm wrinkles the soul.

~Samuel Ullman

In 2011, Chicken Soup for the Soul published Chicken Soup for the Soul: Inspiration for the Young at Heart. I jumped at the chance to contribute a story. I so wanted to help get the word out that gray hair and wrinkles do not an old soul make. We’re as young as we feel, and it’s time the world knows it. No more birthday cards making fun of a person for getting a year older. No more of those condescending looks.

I wrote about doing my first marathon at sixty-five and was thrilled when my story was accepted. Little did I realize how much more thrilled I’d be when reading through my copy of the book and finding Robert Tell’s poem, “Mushy Face Is No Disgrace.” It changed my outlook forever.

I’m not sure when it started, but I do remember my shock one morning when I glanced in the bathroom mirror and saw my long-dead grandmother staring out at me. What was she doing in my mirror?

I didn’t feel old. I was still physically active and had all my marbles. I traveled, volunteered, wrote and taught writing. My days were crammed with new and interesting things to do. I wasn’t like my old stay-at-home Grandma, who in my childhood had seemed ancient to me. How could I look like her?

I washed up in a grumpy mood. I felt depressed, then angry. I railed against Mother Nature. Why should I look like my years instead of how I felt inside? I started to feel irritated when people offered me help with a heavy package or a hand to step up into their SUV. I’d tell myself, “They see my wrinkles so they think I’m old. They think I can’t do it myself.”

Looking back, I feel ashamed at how I allowed that angry, defensive mood to persist so long. I was slowing down, but I refused to see it. I gritted my teeth at the airport employee returning with an empty wheelchair who offered me a ride. “It’s a long way to baggage from here and we’re going the same way. Hop in,” he said. I smiled lamely, shook my head and kept walking, dragging my heavy carry-on behind me. “You may have trouble with that suitcase on the escalator. I’m headed for the elevator. You’ll find it easier.”

He was right, but he couldn’t convince me. I didn’t want to act like the little old lady he thought I was. I’d show him he was wrong. “No, thanks. I always use the escalator. It’s not a problem,” I said and hurried on.

I was lying. The escalator was always a problem for me. With my vertigo, getting on without being able to immediately grab the rail was scary. I’d hesitate, while people behind me grew impatient. If someone said, “Let me help you with that bag,” and pulled it on for me, I’d mumble a thank you but inwardly wince. I’d want to turn around and say, “Don’t judge me by a few wrinkles. I’m as young as you are inside.”

When I began reading Robert Tell’s delightful poem, I found it comforting. I wasn’t alone! This guy looked in his mirror and was just as shocked as I was. As I read on, I found affirmation in this verse:

In the mirror is a face

Of a man you can’t replace;

Though it sags from ear to ear,

Not yet will it disappear.

At first, I nodded in agreement. He’s right, I thought. I am in my eighties and wrinkled, but I’m still here. He too is here and shocked at what he sees in the mirror because he doesn’t feel old and useless either. He still feels like himself. He’s defiant about those wrinkles, just like me.

Then I realized: no, not like me. Not at all like me. I’ve been defiantly angry, but he’s defiant in an affirmative way. He sees his aging face and graying hair and accepts them as a small price to pay for the blessing of still being able to wake each morning to life. Another day to enjoy friends, play with a grandchild, glory at the sunset, tell someone you love them. He is thankful where I have been vain. He’s right. I’m wrong. It’s not my appearance that needs a facelift. It’s my attitude.

I continued reading and found myself laughing out loud by the end of the poem. Humor. How could I have forgotten its healing power? How could I have slipped into such a black mood over resembling my grandmother? How could I have not noticed the wonderful fact that I was alive to see myself turn into my grandmother?

I have a new morning ritual for washing up now. I start with a look in the mirror, a look long enough to begin my day with a cheerful, “Good morning, Grandma,” as the faucet starts to run.

~Marcia Rudoff

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