56 sounds old. I can remember hearing those kind of numbers as a child and being kind of horrified at that many years stacked up inside, and as it turns out, outside me. When i was 16 i couldn't comprehend what 56 year old me would be like - i was too busy trying to be good and pretty and biddable. i was Vassalisa before she went into the forest.
I know... Some people never make it here at all. Some lovely and deserving and wonderful people won't make it here. And so the imperative to make some use of life, to tend to a sense of purpose gets sharper each turn around the sun.
But one of the things that sticks out in my memory from those times when i listened to adults reflecting on age was the idea of letting go.
No, not the diaphanous spiritual idea of just letting it go. Or even the more hard won and solid recovery idea of letting go and letting God. Nope. This letting go was, by the tone of the voices, something shameful and an act of letting the side down. "Oh she (rarely he btw) let herself go."
What was this letting go?
Was it the kind of letting go that brought relief to my little childhood heart - "Yes I'll let you go to the shop with the neighbours?" No it wasn't an allowing .
Was it that she finally let herself go on holiday or somewhere she always wanted to be? No, didn't seem to be a destination.
Was it the letting go of the reins and letting the horse go where it wanted. Well that was closer.
But what was the shameful part of that? Was it about controlling the direction or destination and if so what was the thing they were trying to control or avoid?
It seemed that the letting go was the kind that happened to houses if they were filthy and gardens if you didn't use lots of weedkiller and petrol.
It seemed the letting go was about rack and ruin. About disintegration. About failure.
And what was this failure? it seemed it was the failure to be young. The failure to pursue youth and youthfulness. To put effort into appearing younger than you were or slimmer than you were or richer than you were. The way this thinking keeps us on a hamster wheel of buying things to stave off age is clear. The way this thinking keeps you ashamed of yourself is also pretty clear - living into your own body as a source of shame never fails to distress me.
But as i aged It seemed to me that letting yourself go meant being who you actually were.
The crime of being your age, of being your weight, of living to your means seemed to be one that special vitriol was levelled at. I know little jane tucked that in her psyche for future reference. And now, i think i am living that future.
I have let myself go. Into my own weight, into my own skin; as saggy and wrinkly as it is. Into my own changing shape and hair colour and capacity.
i have had to wrestle with my thoughts and prejudices as i did so. I have a pang each time people who haven't seen me for years don't recognise me because of the changes time has created but do i regret it?
No. I don't.
I feel like, by letting go of the battle with ageing, i am freed up to pay attention to other things; to sleep on my front as i love to do (a woman i know who did end up in her elder years with impeccable skin refused to sleep anywhere other than her back for fear of wrinkles. - the pay off just doesn't make sense and i often think of her when i am snuggled in with my face all squashed into a pillow, luxuriating in the softness.)
Do big trees regret changing into their adult form? Do wolves mind getting grizzled grey muzzles? I don't think so.
Maybe the letting go is about letting ourselves go towards the realms that modern culture is so damn scared of; ageing and dying? Maybe that's why we are encouraged to spend so much to stay young; to convince the tribe not to leave us behind on the next migration?
I don't know. I have had too much tenderness around age and dying to discount it as something to fear. And besides I can go where i want to now that i am a grown woman with means. I get to let myself go on adventures if i want. And the adventure of age seems important.
So l let myself go. Into my Baba Yaga self. Into wildness, into freedom, into self compassion, into the relief of being able to put down my weapons in that particular war against myself and just be real.