When I think of a classy broad, I think of that British triad of thespians who are the epitome of spunk, intelligence and graceful aging - the Dames: Judi Dench, Helen Mirren and Diana Rigg. These three gals speak to me. They show that women in their 60s and beyond can keep their creative spark burning and do some of their best work later in life. Of course, I will never meet them but they continue to amaze me with their talent and zest for life.
I just viewed “Mrs. Henderson Presents” the other night and the chemistry between Judi Dench and Bob Hoskins was so much fun to watch. You could tell they were perfectly comfortable in their roles but I think I saw something more on the screen – they are perfectly comfortable with who they are not just the characters they are portraying.
There’s something rewarding about reaching midlife and beyond. The jokes abound, sure, but the fact is that some of the heavy baggage gets thrown out and, if lucky, the stuff left behind is the real pay dirt. No fool’s gold here. The need to please or live up to a certain model or standard of behavior wanes. You are more at home in your own skin. Hell, you may even be willing to stand naked in your own skin before the world as Bob Hoskins did in “Mrs. Henderson”. There was such an honesty to that moment - baring it all as a metaphor for the authenticity of growing older.
I may never have to strip to prove my point (unless I meet a sexy old fart like Bob Hoskins). I just know that something new and exciting and genuine opened in me when I climbed my first mountain a couple years ago. I spent a week in the company of strangers and I was not the only 60-year-old making it to the summit. There was another gal, two years older than I, who had already climbed Mt. Indefatigable on a previous trip! She and I were the grand dames of the hiking party, outflanked by much younger males and one other younger woman. I learned a lot about myself that week. I liked what I saw.
I want to remember how alive I felt in attempting the daily hikes, the pleasure I gained from putting myself out there with folks I had never met. I became vulnerable and shared my fears of keeping up with the other more experienced hikers. The need to compare or compete quickly disappeared as I found out that who I was trumped who I thought I had to be. Every day brought new challenges and surprises. I delighted in playing the piano in the lodge at end of day surrounded by people who enjoyed what I had to offer. Self-doubts were replaced by warm acceptance. I returned the favor by listening and affirming the others in my group. It was a week of renewal and rebirth. I don’t think I could have found the courage to move this summer if I had not first found the courage to climb those mountains. I’m trying to carry that experience with me into my new life here in the Berkshires.
Judi, Helen and Diana may have led far more glamorous and newsworthy lives, yet we would be no strangers if we sat down to tea. I think we all look forward to growing older, on our own terms in our own inimitable style.
Let’s hear it for the ladies and gents who can let it all hang out.