Traveling hopefully

As a Seattle woman, I thought I knew all there was to know about damp and drizzly skies. Then I got older. And, well, older still. Till I realized that in terms of my 40-something body there's nowhere to run to, babeee, nowhere to hide.

Now the weather not only affects my mood when all I want to do is cozy in with a hot toddy - it also affects my bones. That's right, right down to the marrow of life. Knees. Hips. Even fingers. And not in a good way but in a "This is what my mother has been complaining about all these years" way. When Robert Louis Stevenson coined the phrase, "To travel hopefully is a better thing than to arrive." I realize he was referring to middle age.

Whenever I feel particularly woebegone, I stare at the maple tree outside my office window, a vast and abundant sprawl of leaves in summer, a dark mesh of leaflessness in winter with all degrees of growth in between. It's been said she's over a hundred years old and just look at her, I think. She's still got it going on, she's gorgeous! And whenever I hear someone in the neighborhood complain about her falling leaves "messing up" the sidewalks, I want to choke them.

A friend who will remain anonymous is also dealing with "maturing." (Yes, I prefer maturing to the word aging. It implies wisdom rather than "with more cellulite"). She, 10 years older than I, is still so staggeringly beautiful and fit, though she won't believe a word of it ever, ventured yesterday to the mall. Why? Because when a woman wants a little pick-me-up, a bit of confidence (false? who cares!) or just a little guidance from her inner fashionista to hoist her femininity out of cold storage under the guise of "I really need some new underwear," that's where she heads. Even if I live in a city where some women would not admit to shop-ping-for-fun - as if it were akin to committing crimes against humanity, as they walk around in $150 vests from R.E.I. As if purchasing some-thing in an outdoor boutique is not the same thing at all. The thing about this kind of shopper is: they lie. And because it's not fair to single out R.E.I. shoppers, I include Eddie Bauer.

Anyway, back to my friend, who found her-self in the ultra-trendy Forever 21 store where clothes are cheap enough to buy something really adventuresome to wear once maybe twice before it falls apart. Still, much to her disbelief, it was the very store that had the one thing she'd been searching for ever since seeing its designer twin in the pages of Vogue. And though she settles for the poor-relation replica, we agree it really, really, looks the same. "It's just that when I got to the counter," she said as we giggled (the best kind of sharing), "I felt the need to tell the little girl who waited on me that the sweater was for my daughter. No, my granddaughter!"

After admitting she hugged the fluorescent-yellow bag with its huge FOREVER 21 logo to her chest as she ran to her car as if she'd just bought porn, we laughed to the point where you just know you're going to pee your panties and I remember why I love her so much. Our honesty is the most phenomenal empowerment.

Because of her, and the maple tree, I enter this whole new phase of aging on a positive note. Equally shining, both teach me how to be happy in the here and now-this-very-moment. What this gives me is the world. And I admit, I like owning the world. Almost more than a new pair of shoes. And when I run out of real things to be anxious about - like how I'm going to afford my health insurance, or whether I should move my mom (who deals with aging on a whole other escalating level) into the condo next door or is five blocks away close enough, so that I go looking for something silly to fret over, like the inevitability of growing older - just ignore me. No matter how many essays it takes to work it through.

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