like my yoga practice.
It is to most folks—except Madonna, Sting and some other people—a
particularly vigorous version of what we assume is yoga. Despite
my equally vigorous dismissal of Madonna, I guess she and
I are on the same wavelength here. Or om-length. Whatever.
So when I am getting ready for bed, and I look at my arms—previously
on the normal/shapeless side of arms, not chubby, or flabby
or anything really objectionable—I like them better.
Nowadays they look like an acceptably capable pair of arms.
They’re not bulky (how unfeminine!) or scrawny (how osteoporotic!).
They are decent, toned, capable arms, which is how I’ve always
seen my brain—decent, toned, capable.
Something different must be said of my legs. Because I used
to dance I have taken my legs quite for granted. That they
are strong, flexible and reliable I have come to treat them
much as we treat a loyal puppy or a loving partner—there when
we need them, worthy of a bone when we happen to think of
it, but on their own pretty much the rest of the time. A lame
attitude if you think about it and a bad omen for legs, besides.
But before I go to bed, after I’ve reflected on the changed
state of my arms, after I’ve reminded myself that my legs
are useful, but not so important that I should be vain about
them—pride goeth before a fall and all that, and a fall would
be quite a drag in terms of my yoga practice—then I can’t
help but see my face.
It is, frankly, a face I have also come to take for granted.
I think I was 30 before I realized I had blue eyes. It was
not until recently I discovered, from pictures from the 1940s
and 1950s, when my mother was a hot, red-haired babe, that
I look like her—but as a chaste, dishwater blonde instead
of a flaming redhead?
And then I have also seen pictures from my earlier adult years—slightly
beer-plump and smiling from college days; wanly slim for my
first wedding; slim and winsome, poolside, with my first daughter;
red-cheeked and round, standing by a snowman when I was pregnant
The girl in those pictures is some pretty picture of me. The
me I didn’t claim then. The me that seems not to be me now.
Because before I go to bed, after gazing at legs and arms
more supple than in my sedentary 20s or 30s, I see a 42-year-old
face, the eyes oddly downcast, as though smiling had—mysteriously—saddened
As I look, I can’t believe that the face in the mirror is
my face any more than I can believe that the face in snapshots,
smiling over the bald head of a nursing baby—a face amazed
to give and nourish life—is also mine.
I mean, I really have come to like my face. But when I look
at it, I see that it is older than my body. Despite my wanting
to, I cannot erase what it has seen.
Because I am a pastor I visit older people in hospitals and
nursing homes a lot. Those places smell of blood and mortality.
There is no getting away from it. Still, such visits are inexplicably
The other day I visited someone in the hospital where my mother
died less than a year ago. On the way in, I noticed a hearse
parked by the door. How could I not imagine another hearse,
the hearse driven by a dear friend of mine, that had come
to collect my mother’s tired body?
But in spite of that, when I went in to see my elderly patient
I saw someone whose body was vital beyond the etchings on
Time and again, throughout the years that I have visited the
elderly and the dying, I have seen the bedsheets disheveled,
exposing bits of flesh that beg only to be private. But what
I have seen is that our bodies live on—strangely and smoothly
beautiful—even as our faces show both the wear and the wonder
of our lives. We defy death with bodies that suggest and remind
us of the insufficiency of time to explain our lives.
Because I had slept the night beside her before she died,
when I awoke I saw my own mother’s belly peeking out from
under the cloud of sheet. And before my coffee, before I had
even risen from my bed, I saw her belly as the place of my
birth, of my original belonging.
And what a smooth belly it was in the minutes before she died,
round and soft with the muscle memory of the lives she had
given. And her face, lined and careworn, carved around the
breath she slowly gave up needing, was folded inward, as peacefully
closed to her daughters’ scrutiny as a Japanese fan.
Sometimes, when I am not distressed with sleepiness or scheduling
or the insistencies of desire, my body and my face undress
And then my separate selves—the images of who I was, the body
that I am now and the face that has seen all of my life—regard
the other. Fleetingly, I am knit into a peculiar wholeness,
imperfect and unmarketable.
But it reminds me, or maybe only assures me, that what is
both lasting and changing are somehow—blessedly—at one in
the turmoil of being.
can contact Jo Page at email@example.com.