An Ode to the
On My Street
As of recently, each time I see an old woman, old as in 60+, I experience a flood of affection that is comparable to the infatuation I feel for sweet plantain, Bianca Giaever’s ‘the Scared is scared’, and men who don’t mansplain. Old women of different shapes, sizes, colors, and scents make me feel this way. But I am especially struck by the ones who rock a full head of grey hair and multi-colored sweaters. The ones who talk to themselves as they investigate the grocery store’s bell pepper selection. The ones who table at coffee shops and encourage millennials to put down their phones and be politically active offline. The ones whose words come out ever so bluntly from their muted fuchsia lips. The ones who reject the notion that they must shrink to be accepted. These women inspire me to sit up straight and speak with moxie and I have fallen completely head over heels for them.
The infatuation I have is so intense that sometimes it even morphs into jealousy. I covet the sophisticated demeanor that old women possess. I crave their fortitude and nerve to be self-assured. We tend to glorify youth and associate it with being carefree, but I’m beginning to believe that youth is overrated. I have never seen the embodiment of carefreeness more than in an older woman. As a 20-something, most things feel so uncertain. From the big and existential to the small and daily, my conversations and journal entries are decorated with questions marks. I don’t know what I’m doing. I don’t know what is next. I don’t know, I don’t know, I don’t know. But when the elders come round, this dread of the unknown does not seem to phase them. They carry themselves as if fear is just some silly folklore, as if turning 60 is some threshold to transcendence and transcendence is just the state of not caring so much.
Given the nature of being alive, my perspective is probably wrong. It is impossible to live without doubt or fear. Even the most majestic among us struggle. However, it is comforting to entertain the idea that one day I won’t feel so unsure or lost or out of control, that I’ll power walk without second guessing my steps. Playing the grass is greener game is dangerous, but all the old people on my street have beautiful lawns. And in the midst of my millennial dilemmas, I’ve found that all I want is what my neighbors seem to have — lush lawns and a sense of stability. Surely, this gnawing will eventually soften and time will reveal the voodoo of being, or perhaps the voodoo of accepting not knowing how to be, but for now, I wish I could just fast-forward through the angst of youth.
Of course, the late stages of life are not completely tension-free either. Old people are often dismissed as cranky and close-minded. And even I with my fat fancy, cannot deny the validity of these stereotypes. I live in the south, so I regularly encounter the suspicious lady who clutches her purse at the sight of my brown skin. In fact, before this random burst of admiration, I usually felt incredibly uncomfortable around old people, more specifically old white people. The ones who drive around with Trump bumper stickers. The ones who eye me as I, like they, peruse the thrift store. The ones my white friends say would disapprove if they brought me home as their friend or partner. My African grandparents and I are separated by the Atlantic, so my connection with old people is mostly defined by these kinds of uneasy encounters. It would be naive to close my eyes to the flaws of our elders.
Nonetheless, for every unpleasant old person, there is a goddess-like grandma strolling the neighborhood as if she is in a parade. She walks with ease, with a casual wonder. She is unbothered, not because her world is easy, but because she has lived long enough to handle its difficulties with grace. She possesses qualities that only come with age — vintage wisdom, tested joy, cultivated calmness. She is smiling. She is probably not wearing a bra. She is who I wish to be in 40 or 50 years. She is who I wish to be now. She is the self she’s come to learn and embrace with all the time she’s had. And hopefully, with all that precious time, she’s figured out how to be free.