It happened last year on Father’s Day weekend.
News spread quickly over social media that an acquaintance of mine–someone who had attended all elementary, high school, and college with me–had slipped into a coma on Father’s Day night after suffering a brain aneurysm. Mutual friends and acquaintances from all three schools were shocked. A prayer page quickly went up on Facebook, and friends connected in hope and anticipation for any news of her progress. Sadly, though, she passed away a few days later.
She was only two years older than me.
Her children also looked only about two years older than mine. In a flash–unexpectedly and unfairly–she was gone. There was nothing anyone could have done to anticipate it. And there was nothing anybody could have done to change it.
Although I was never close to her, inwardly her death rocked me to the core. Nightly, I cried for weeks as I fell asleep. I cried for her husband. For her children. For her parents. For anyone and everyone who loved her. I cried because it was too soon and too easy. I cried because it could so easily have been me. It could so easily be any of us.
Over the course of this past year, I have thought of her more often than I can count. Sometimes she pops into my brain when I feel exasperated with my children or when I look in the mirror with condemnation. And it always sets my mindset right again: what she wouldn’t have given for one more moment with her children. For one more chance to wear a bathing suit or a short skirt. For just one more day.
My mindset changed shortly after she died. Prior to her death, I had begun to notice the little laugh lines around my eyes, creases that were growing ever-deeper with time. I had considered “anti-wrinkle” creams and whether or not I should start an “anti-aging” routine on my face. But Sam’s death changed everything. After such an unexpected passing, I began to look at those creases a little differently.
I decided I didn’t want to get rid of them–that instead, I suddenly wanted to celebrate them. At the age of thirty-four I have already had too many friends who would’ve given anything to have lived long enough to see days where deep lines covered their faces, giving testimony to years of joy and marking countless occasions of noses crinkled with laughter and eyes squinting into a day filled with warm, bright sun. I have had too many friends who never got the luxury of “crow’s feet” or “laugh lines.” They never had the choice of whether or not they wanted to age.
A few weeks ago, we were at a show and a woman came to my booth–my guess is that she was in her late 50’s or early 60’s. “Do you have anything to get rid of my wrinkles?” she asked anxiously. “No,” I replied with a thoughtful smile, “And I hope I never do.”
“What do you mean?” she asked quizzically, slightly amused but more confused than anything.
“Those wrinkles tell the story of your life,” I explained. “They are the map of your experiences. And it is a beautiful story–one of which you should never be ashamed to share with the world. I don’t want to ever sell anything that would take away from the telling of your unique story.”
She chuckled to herself, looked down at her hands, and then looked up at me with a new expression. “You’re right,” she said quietly. “You know, you’re right.”
Each wrinkle is a gift. It is a mark that shows respect to the passage of time–a reminder of our experience, our lessons, our relationships. It is part of what makes our lives and our bodies beautiful and complex. It speaks to years of hard-earned wisdom, of conversations deep into the night, of games played with children, of relationships found and lost, of joy and grief and anticipation and life.
Each wrinkle is a privilege that not all are lucky enough to receive.
And after her death, I made a promise to Sam that I would never take the gift of a wrinkle for granted ever again. I hope to gather as many as possible, to wear them proudly, and when my time comes to hand them back, I will be glad to have rejoiced in every single one of them.