soft focus

April 30th, 2019

We were walking down the street when my daughter looked over at me and said I hope I inherit your DNA of aging.

What do you mean? I’m an old woman.

Your face doesn’t look like it.

That’s not DNA. That’s lifestyle.

The flattery was nice, and the science might have been correct, but I wanted to kick that train of thought in its little red caboose. It’s not so helpful for a 19-year-old to believe that she’s nothing but a double helix of nucleotides unleashing an irreversible code of predeterminants that she can’t tinker with.

And yet, that’s precisely the way some of us approach our lives: with grim resignation. You’re born, you pay taxes and you die.

No one can argue against DNA, but do you know, really know, what your DNA is and what it foretells? Of course not. What I’m talking about here are the hard lines of our foregone conclusions, the unyielding beliefs we hold about who we are, what we can do, and how it will turn out.

I once told an audience of women who were easily 25 years younger than me that I was an older mother. I can’t deny it and I don’t try to hide it. A rumble erupted in the room until one of them demanded to know why I called myself that. I asked what was wrong with being old. Why is it a thing we’re not allowed to be or even say?

When I first started to practice Zen, my teacher said that women who practice become more beautiful with age. They soften, he said. I wondered why he told me that. Was it so obvious that I was a panicky 40-year-old staring into the maw of middle age and what comes after? Why yes, it was obvious. Nothing is hidden. But it’s also true. When you relax and release the grip of vanity, fear, resistance, and self-obsession, things change. You’ll probably be the last to know, since you no longer spend time in front of a mirror fussing with what you find there. You no longer have the interest.

So when I say I’m old, it’s not a criticism or complaint. It doesn’t come from self-pity. It comes from being free. And yes darling, I really hope you inherit that too.

Here is a talk about body acceptance and the courage to be what you are.


  1. As always, ALWAYS, right on time.

    This morning I forced myself to finally pick up the local magazine that, in a feature, includes a profile of me. I didn’t want to see it, I didn’t want to read it, and when I did all I saw was flaws. And age. “Is that really how I look? Is that what people see?” How can I feel 35 but look, well, my age?

    I had just come from a medical test that had allayed my worst fears and I shot straight back to the most delusional ones of all. Saved from the fear of imminent sickness or death, my thoughts turned to dermal fillers.

    Lately I’ve ‘fallen off the cushion’. There’s been a lot of clinging and grasping and anxious recoiling going on. But I’ve been getting back on. This is more support.

    Comment by Laura — April 30, 2019 @ 2:29 pm

  2. Thank you for this. <3

    Comment by Sarah — May 1, 2019 @ 4:32 am

  3. Thank you! <3

    Comment by Another old woman — May 1, 2019 @ 8:51 am

  4. Thank you for this article. It’s one of the best I’ve read in a long long time.

    Comment by Jan Pollard — May 14, 2019 @ 8:08 am

  5. Thank you for your insights.
    I have finally embraced my aging. I feel empowered, as I did after the birth of my daughters.
    I see my life as a book with many chapters.
    Each one a new tale unfolding.

    Comment by Jude Smith — August 29, 2023 @ 7:47 am

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