Featured

A case of vanity or self-love?

When you get to my age you finally learn that whilst certain external agents are necessary, vital at times, to lift us out of anxiety, depression, loss or any other soul-destroying circumstance, in the end the only thing that can rescue us from the darkness is truly ourselves.

If there is one lesson I have tried to teach my kids time and time again is this one, because I know that the biggest battles we fight in our life are always the ones we win within, wrestling with ourselves.

I have fought many of these internal battles over the years. When I was young and easily influenced, I relied on other people’s opinion of me to give me a sense of worth and confidence. As an adult, I learnt that even the closest of friends can one day become enemies and that many people who come into your life dressed as sheep are in fact foe; that there are individuals who come into your life for a season to gain something from you and then move on when they got what they wanted. There are others who also identify themselves as friends and are so for a time, but then just like the wind blows in one direction one moment and then in another the next, they change alliance with the blink of an eye and once again, you get put on the shelf or back in the shadows as they move on to the next fool who cannot see them coming. And then there are the kind of friends who genuinely see the best in you, want the best for you and would drop everything to help you out when you need it. And yet, not even those can save you from yourself.

I have learnt that what I thought was vanity is in many instances self-love. When I was younger, I was judgemental, proud, arrogant. Now I know that we all have our own reasons for behaving the way we do. I am not seeking to justify any particular behaviour. I am simply saying that in the later part of my life I have learnt to respect other people’s space and freedom to do as they please. I guess when I was younger my outlook was limited, full of prejudice and blind spots. Now, at 51 I myself have been driven to tight spots I did not know existed, and I have had to alter my behaviour in order to survive, to move forward; a behaviour that my younger, naïve self would have considered totally inappropriate or undignified perhaps. It’s funny how life teaches us time and time again to never judge a book by its cover, and time and time again we ignore that advice and we fall into judgement and rejection of others based on our own prejudices and narrow-mindedness.

I have learnt that it is not worth giving of myself to those who have no empathy, interest or kindness to open the book of my life and read through the pages of the highs and the lows that have led me to be who I am today, before they pass judgement or give their opinion.

I have learnt that the only opinion I should trust when it comes to who I am and where I am going is my own, because even when given with the best of intentions, others’ counsel or guidance is based on their own convictions and experiences, and so what may suit them, does not necessarily suit me.

I have learnt that whilst friends and family are a really important part of a person’s life, the one constant we need to thrive during our time on earth is self-love. The advice given during the safety briefing on a flight to put on your own life jacket or oxygen mask before helping others is for me one of the essential keys to safe living. Sometimes we can be so caught up in looking after others, trying to help others or gaining direction or seeking validation from others that we forget to listen to what our own judgement and gut instinct is telling us; we forget to extend that lifeline to ourselves and in doing so we spend our life wrestling, perpetuating our predicament of a square peg in a round hole.

Today I am practising self-love or vanity, call it what you will. I don’t really care. It helps me to appreciate who I am and how far I’ve come. It reminds me that I am not who or what others may think of me, but I am the truth I see in the mirror every day, warts and all! I am imperfect, unfinished, scarred, blemished and very flawed, but I am authentic and beat only to my own drum.

Here I am, for a lifetime!

Nobody tells you this, because getting older is not the kind of subject most people find all that interesting or engaging, but I wish somebody had spoken to me about the pluses of ageing, and trust me, there are a few and they are not to be underestimated.

Yes, it is quite depressing to see one’s body becoming less able, less willing, easing off into the undignified deterioration that silently takes place each day and creeps up on you all of a sudden one fine morning when you look in the mirror. Yes, it is also rather demoralising to lose intellectual ability, concentration skills and that eagerness of your youth to absorb all the knowledge at your reach. Gosh, I remember how in my teens I used to be able to memorise entire books of subjects I was not even that much into, like History of Art. My goal was to get the best grades and apart from the sacrifice of endless hours invested, intellectually my learning was seamless, thriving, limitless. Now, my willingness to learn, my thirst for keeping up with the world is just as eager and sharp, but the in-built tools to do so are somewhat rusty and worn out, saturated from so much use in the past; from firing all cylinders as if my ability to make any kind of impact, to matter would expire by the age of 30.

The pain of feeling the younger generation ‘pushing you aside’ to make way for their own discoveries, trends, ethos, and understanding of how to navigate relationships, the economy, professional pursuits and the meaning of life in general, also rubs salt in the wound of the ageing process. Lord knows, for those of us who have children, the older they become, the more redundant we begin to feel both to them and to the world in general. Their confidence, know-how and freshness is enough to make one forget how much we have achieved in our own life and the fact that like them, we were once young too, full of light, hope, energy, influence and limitless possibilities. Like us too, they will one day, if they are lucky to make it, ponder this very same realisation.

I read something on twitter two days ago which really made me sad. A lady, who said was about to become 65, was pleading with her audience to be liked or retweeted in order to, for once in her life, before either dying or developing Alzheimer’s, become noticed or have any kind of impact on a large scale; to somehow be one amongst the millions of grains of sand which successfully makes an indelible impression on the beach before being washed away by the waves.

It made me very sad, because there is that overwhelmingly dominant and influential opinion around that once you reach a certain age, you are good for nothing, you mean nothing, you add nothing, you offer nothing. We are an intelligent species but we can be so shockingly blind too with the elementary stuff. We are all in this together. We all go through the same cycle of life. It is in our own interest to highly value, nurture and treasure the later years of our life, because just like we all have a beginning, we all have an end. And yet, the moment we begin to age, we are the first ones to throw in the towel, to step aside, cower and hide, giving licence to the rest of the world to ignore and trample on us.

Well, I am not going to silently just step aside and let society, governments or ruthless individuals, men and women, treat me like I am done in this world. You come at me with your youth and your arrogance, and I will serve you a huge dose of perspective and a wake up call, because where I am is where you are also going, so you’ll do well to listen to the pilgrims who have traversed before you that very same road you are now on and are convinced is unique and exclusively paved for you and your own gain and enjoyment.

We can see things that you can’t yet see and have solutions for challenges that you have not yet endured. Our foot, unlike yours, is off the accelerator and we have successfully learnt how to marinade in the spices of all that life has to offer; to relish the traits in others that in our youth we foolishly rejected as irrelevant or unattractive. We have learnt to savour the moment; to discard the prejudices and hang-ups that forced us to live life through someone else’s eyes. If you come at me with your naive understanding and fake manufactured self, telling me I ‘aint no longer got it’, I will tell you that no quality is more alluring, more seductive than being comfortable in your skin and loving yourself, all of yourself; your achy body, crinkly skin and scarred soul. It is only when you accept yourself as you are; when you truly know yourself, that your life acquires the ultimate level of authenticity and freedom which is elusive in our youth. It is only then, in the later part of our lives that we ditch the baggage and learn to soar to the heights we were destined for, and trust me, I would never trade the view and full-on sensory and spiritual presence from up here for the shortsightedness, blind spots and restraining presumptions of my youth.