On Vanity and “Skiing Accidents”


“I think surgery is the best, maybe only, option.” 

I’m not surprised to hear these words from the surgeon sitting across from me. Aside from his appearance (he looks like he is 12) I think I trust him. I did the google on him, and evidently his competent 12 year old hands and brain have a brilliant success rate. 

For months now I have had increasing pain in my hip. When treatments, physical therapy, and sheer grit did not work, I decided to see a surgeon. 

So I find myself sitting across from a stranger who is showing me an X-ray of my hip. What I see is not pretty. 

“Can I tell people it’s a skiing accident?” I ask. I think I whined, but I can’t remember. He laughs. He thinks I’m joking. 

But my pride is hurt. My vanity is wounded. I feel far too young to have a hip replacement, especially when I can blame it on nothing but arthritis. If only I was an athlete – a runner, a skier, an aerobics instructor! 

I am none of these things. 

I am a 57 year old woman with arthritis. 

Just saying it makes me want to curl up in dismay. 

Secretly, I think we all believe that aging is for other people, not for us. We secretly remark on how “grey and wrinkled so and so is getting,” while in the mirror the wrinkles hide under the perfect make up foundation – denial. 

Denial paints our bodies and skin in the flawless glow of youth, even as we marvel at the years weighing others down. 

Aging is not for the timid, not for the fearful, and I fear I am both. 

In late February I visited my parents in Florida. Though they live in Rochester, New York, they have tried to get away for a couple of months the last few winters. Rochester is cold, snowy, and icy. It’s a fall waiting to happen and the prospect of warmer weather drew them to warmer climates. So at the end of February I found myself visiting them in Panama City Beach.

This area is known for its incredible turquoise water and white sand. The contrast is stunning. Along with this contrast is the contrast between the young and beautiful and the snow bird aging population. 

The weekend did not turn out the way we expected, but we still deeply enjoyed each other’s company.  As I looked with eyes of love on my parents I realized that I don’t like the aging process. But as I watched them, I recognized that I am not afraid for them – I’m afraid for me. I don’t have the kind of stamina and courage they do. I don’t have the faith that they do. I am not brave. I do not want to age.

It is a relief to admit this. I do not want to age. It’s not about the wrinkles, though they are tough. It’s about the body. 

Aging is hard work, and I am lazy. Aging is for the courageous, and I am not. 

I don’t feel sorry for my parents. They have taken all the changes with incredible grace. Their minds are alert and active. They live independently. They take their pills with discipline and a good deal of humor and grace. 

I feel sorry for me – because I clearly have some things to learn about life and the body, and I better learn them quickly. 
Perhaps being honest about this surgery is my first step. Perhaps admitting publicly that I am vain, that I have to have a hip replacement, and that it is NOT because of a skiing accident, or a marathon run, or a heroic act of physical courage is the best first step. 

I wake up this morning and I take off the make up of denial, and I pray for courage and strength to face a reality that every human being who lives longer than 50 has to face: The reality of aging. 

But I still may tell people that it’s because of a skiiing accident….,

6 thoughts on “On Vanity and “Skiing Accidents”

  1. My mother had fits about turning 50 and my sister about turning 30. My sister, in fact, was so bothered about turning 30 that I gave her a black balloon that read “Over the hill”, which she in turn clobbered me with! Anyway, I decided back in my 20s that I was never going to worry about my age, and I haven’t. Every decade has been better. In my teens I was desperately insecure and my faith was small. In my 20s, I started realizing that my opinion was as good as anyone else’s and that I had more experience than some of my peers in my chosen field, and I saw God bring me through some trials and my faith grew. In my 30s, I grew in experience and trust and went overseas. I spent all my 40s in Pakistan, and went through a coup, nuclear testing, a state of emergency, a road strike that had the school about out of food, an 8.0 earthquake, a terrorist attack…and my faith grew and I became a more assured person. Now in my 50s, I have come back home, had both parents die, and have stage 4 cancer. My faith grew even more, and I finally quit trying to feel in control, realizing God has been all the time, not me. I don’t color my hair, and didn’t even wear a wig when chemo made my hair fall out, just wore hats (no itching that way!). I don’t wear makeup, either, but that’s partly because even the hypo-allergenic kinds make me itch within an hour or so. And you know what? The more you trust the Lord, the less you worry and the less your face wrinkles! People never guess my age (I am one year older than you.)
    I will say that it is a lot easier to age myself than to watch my parents slowly lose abilities and die, especially my father, who was always my advisor, and protector from dishonest car repairmen! But God meets every need. I got help when it became necessary, the money was available to pay for it, and God mercifully took Dad home after just 2 weeks of being bedridden. And God continues to care for my father needs. My dad used a mechanic who dealt honestly with him, knowing that he’d spot any poor work or unneeded replacements, and a few months before he died, he went with me to have my car inspected by the man, and asked him to promise to take care of my car with the same integrity he’d shown Dad. The mechanic was moved, and agreed, and has kept his word. My dad was the home handyman, but a friend of his who is just a few years older than I has stepped in and does any small repairs I need–he installed my garage door opener when the old one died, a new kitchen faucet when the old one failed, etc. He and his wife pray diligently for me, always wanting to know when my next chemo is and then how it wernt. Everything I felt nervous about when my father died, God has taken care of.
    So my bottom line is this. God is worthy of our trust, so TRUST HIM! He will meet every need, even ones you are not actually aware of. Step into each day confident of His care, and know that He has something for you to do today, or else He’d take you Home. I am 58, and proud to have reached this age. It took a lot of work to stay alive this long, and a lot of grace, and I am giving God glory for each day! (Okay, that last was a brag, but it is true!)

    I sure enjoyed your book, Marilyn, and I finished Bettie Addleton’s book this last week and enjoyed it, too. The pictures are great, and made me mildly homesick for MCS. Oh, for a good cup of chai from the school kitchen! Great to see how God has provided for His church in Pakistan, and for MCS, too. I am praying for staff for them for the fall, they have a lot of needs, yet.

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  2. I can completely relate to your post, Marilyn, AND identify with Jan- including about what is my peer group! Even as my body is aging- such as FOOT surgery for arthritis and big lumps near my thumb joints- my husband has Parkinson’s and has had a stroke last fall, thankfully not a completely debilitating one. And I am “only” 65 and my mother is still alive and fairly well. I sometimes say to people that God is not letting me pretend I am not mortal, and I PRAY to be gracious and learn eternally life-giving truths. CAUSE me to hear Your lovingkindness in the morning, for in You do I trust… Thank you, both of you!

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  3. Just say, “It goes back a long way, to when I lived in ____________” and they’ll assume it was an accident.

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  4. Though I’m some years older than you are, Marilyn, I still think that aging is for others, not me. And I continue to have a difficult time thinking of people my own age as my peer group. I jokingly say that I am aiming for compressed morbidity, as per Ezekiel Emanuel! Oh for the grace to embrace the process and manage the challenges with good humor and dignity as your folks do. Gratitude and kindness (not one of my natural attributes) have become my watchwords as I step into each day. A much better focus than fretting over the passage of time. … As I write this, I also am aware that my challenges are small, I have little to fear, and I am fortunate by any measure.

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  5. Ah, Marilyn, let me be the first to comment on this. That hip replacement will give you so many more good years you will soon forget all about it. You’ll still be traveling the world in 30 years. But it’s true as my friends and I commiserate with each other over the latest ache or pain or dental problem: Old age is not for sissies! The longer I live, I am beginning to think it’s the end of life equivalent of adolescence. The teenager is finding him or herself, learning who they are gaining new freedoms as they approach adulthood. We at this end are having to learn a whole new/old way to live, losing one thing after another. I gave up the car keys, and as my last license comes to an end with this birthday, I’m having to convince people around me that I don’t really want a license, an ID will do, and I hope it’s cheaper. I don’t want to be able to drive in an emergency. I’ll call 911, thank you very much. Your Dad still talks of getting new passports when ours expire this year! Really? But we probably will spend that money just to have that booklet that has been so much a part of our lives. Praying much for your surgery and the aftermath. And we will see you at Jonathan’s graduation, thankful for a direct flight and those lovely people who will push us in our wheelchairs.

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