by Holly Varni
April 21, 2022

I’m not a fan of moments that catch me by surprise. I was looking at my husband the other morning as he was reading the newspaper and nearly jumped back by how old he’s gotten. At first, I did a double take and thought, “Good grief, who is that elderly stranger sitting at my table?” And then reality hit, and I wondered, “When did he get all those wrinkles and lines on his face?”

I sat down to get a closer look, and I couldn’t believe how he barely resembles the man I married. It was as if he were donning a mask for Mardi Gras. We had bid adieu to his hair long ago, so that wasn’t a shocker, but how had I not noticed the sun spots on his face and arms? His eyes no longer had a spark but a softness, like jewelry in need of cleaning. If life is a series of seasons, then my husband appears to have taken the brunt of the hardest winters. It’s as if all the hard work he put into every day finally caught up with him. The stoop of his body and the sag of his skin clearly communicates to others he’s done his share and now it’s their turn.

Old age doesn’t sneak up or creep up on you like people say. It’s more of a smack in the face. We’re similar to old houses, where the outside appears worn and a bit beaten up, the plumbing becomes unreliable in, well, how it works, fuses blow, and the electricity goes on the frizz, not quite lighting up every lightbulb.

When the youngsters celebrate milestone birthdays like thirty, forty, and fifty, and balk like upset little chicks over the unfairness of aging, those of us past retirement roll our eyes. We tell them with a pat on the back, “Aging is a gift that many are never given. Be grateful for your life,” which is true but brings little solace to those lamenting the slowing of their footsteps and metabolism.

We don’t tell them the truths of the monsters lurking in the forest ahead. We simply smile and say, “You don’t look a day over”—and then fill it in with an age ten years younger. What we should do is waggle a crooked finger at them and cackle, “Just you wait,” like gremlins warning about the horrors of arthritis and knee, hip, and shoulder replacements.

But as I sit staring at my husband, he looks up and smiles, and I see the young man I fell in love with. Then he gives me a wink as if this aging thing is a secret between just the two of us. Though the eyes may dim in brightness, the feeling in the heart and flutter in the stomach remain the same.

I get up and go give him a kiss on the cheek, because maybe growing old isn’t that big of a shock. And then I think how very lucky my husband is that I haven’t aged a day.