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A year ago I decided to stop hugging the sides of buildings, furtively looking over my shoulder to see how close the stranger was on my heels. A fugitive in a made-up land, constantly on the run, I was too frightened to address my own aging.

Despite the fact that I had been, for years, furiously attempting to achieve one goal and then another before the sun set, I was, frankly, unaware just how terrified I was of the ultimate sunset, the last spin in the cycle of my life.

A few years ago it became apparent that, for all of my stealth and determination to grow a dozen dreams, I had spent several years taking two steps forward, two steps back. It seemed there might be no last hurrah at this stage of my life, just a lot of standing still, and worn out Reeboks.

In 2003, a relationship had been broken. I crawled, staggered, then lurched forward two years later, summoning my gods, and set my sights on moving to country property I owned. I purchased a used mobile home (you’d be amazed at what $2,000 can buy), primed and painted it inside and out, gave it a new, tiled kitchen counter, tore up old carpet, spent hours on my hands and knees removing staples, and, finally, laid new flooring.

A year later, it shone with sweat and the power of my dream, nurtured for a decade, to live on this parcel of land. I moved into my tiny home, a diminutive palace on an eleven-acre queendom, where I enjoyed a beautiful pond and the garden I had tended for years. A year later, the dream was dashed by events, both commonplace and unfathomed: the owner of the adjoining property removed hundreds of trees, and in a matter of weeks had demolished the vital sound barrier that protected me from the industrial noise of a plywood manufacturing plant.

I was stunned, struggling for days to assure myself that I could adjust. But the noise rattled me to the core. I moved back into my house, fortunate to have a haven. It was as if my feet had never moved.

Still, I wasn’t ready to grapple with how I felt, deeply, intuitively, about crossing the finish line of my fifties. The race, itself, this unconscious struggle to either get to or by-pass the finish line of my life, had precluded compassionate contemplation. Sadness marked me, but a wry cynicism and brawny arrogance had also carried and cloaked me.

For years I had harrumphed upon receiving solicitations to join AARP, the American Association for Retired Persons. I was allowed to harrumph, I reasoned, because I was (and still am) nowhere near retirement. I imagined myself looking down upon the slothful minions, content and secure with their retirement plans and pensions. Jealous? Not I.

Besides, I protested, hugging my sides, and the cracked and peeling facades of my life, there’s still so much for me to do. I can’t be old. I’ve got dreams, damn it. A petulant and demanding child? Not I. This posturing blurred and confounded my fears and masked the shame I felt as one of the infamous baby boomers nowhere near financial self-sufficiency.

The physical signs of aging had been mocking me for some time. The sags, dimples, creases and lines, especially on my face, were piling one atop the other, undeterred, unperturbed by daily applications of Vitamin E cream. I vacillated between vanity and denial. Oh, my God. You look awful. How did this happen? Or: Your skin’s just dry today. Tomorrow will be better.

In early 2010, when I finally admitted that I was horrified to see my wrinkled skin, terrified of the inevitable, I knew it was time to face the stranger at my heels. Only then did I come to realize just how much I’d been on the run. Only then did I begin to luxuriate in the beauty of sunsets, and know there was beauty in other places that had eluded me in my mad dashing.

Wrinkles became my focus, my own epidermal launching pad, from which I soared, cape flapping in the breeze, to observe, with artistic detachment, curious investigation, and kindness, my own aging skin and that of others. I was determined to find beauty, sheer beauty, in this architectural detail of the aging human. It seemed an audacious thing to do.

The wrinkles became not just ends in themselves, but obliging metaphors as well as counterpoints for exploring, in these posts on Wrinkled in Time, such topics as vanity, vulnerability, ageism, and the yearning to rise, Houdini-like, from the locked box full of watery beliefs about what it means to grow old.

Since the spring of 2010, I have looked at sunflowers, and orchids, bare winter branches, and sunsets, and discovered that, at each stage of the life cycle, beauty abounds. No Pollyanna am I, as I see and feel the losses I have encountered along my way. But I have uttered my last harrumph, thereby creating more room for honesty and humility—and horror, should it arise. Even horror gives rise to something else—a surer perception and appreciation of the stranger that is LIFE, in all of its wrinkles and perplexing potential for anguish and awe.

As I lean into 2011, I anticipate looking not just at my own reflection, but listening to the reflections of others as they discover what aging means to them. And I look forward to many photographic moments, as I find wrinkled subjects willing to stand still for my camera’s eye. It will be a great hurrah!

What have you discovered about yourself, no matter your chronological age, as you see yourself spin, or sputter, toward the sunset of your life?

If you care to listen to a very sentimental wedding song from Fiddler on the Roof, entitled, “Sunrise Sunset,” sung by Perry Como, go to http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XWVwVTFAs4c.

If you would like to hear the version from the movie, go to: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nLLEBAQLZ3Q&feature=related

Both are beautiful. My favorite phrase is this: “One season following another, laden with happiness and tears.”

even old things bloom

by Ellen Hamilton

I am looking for the beauty in wrinkles, those maligned signs of aging. Peering into the mirror at my own fears and prejudices, I hope to write some new songs about living in the land of the wrinkled, the wobbly, and brave. I welcome your comments and input about your own experience with aging and your struggles and successes in finding beauty in your wrinkles.

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