Getting back to work has been more difficult than I anticipated, with the old gremlins popping up unexpectedly in corners of the day.

Leonard is sick. I’m sure he caught the virus that E. and I had last week. I hate leaving him alone for the day when he isn’t feeling well, though I know he just sleeps under the coffee table or on the sofa. Maybe it is the stress of getting back to a work schedule that has all of us vulnerable to all kinds of threats. Real and perceived.

I finally saw the hedgehog that has taken up residence under the holly bush. Leonard is curious, but fortunately, he hides behind my legs while he sniffs at the air from a safe distance. The creature’s not a hare, he knows that much. It makes me happy to know there’s a hedgehog here again. I can’t even begin to explain why. We will only catch glimpses of him in the half-dark for a few more months before he sleeps for the winter. But somehow knowing he is there… like a weird kind of vague promise of something good.

Unexamined hope.

I keep reminding myself that life is good right now. I am even learning not to brace myself for bad news when a message notification pops up on my phone. T. sends snaps of their new puppy swimming in a pond way up North. I can hear the splashing, and him and his wife laughing softly.

When I think of these kinds of moments, I think of them as little ponds of pleasure in the day: oases I kind of tiptoe around, admiring, but not really daring to immerse myself in; these moments of calm that dot the stressful landscape. But why can’t I flip that mindset and see moments of stress that simply dot a calm landscape? It is probably closer to the truth of my life right now.

Or could be.

Sometimes I think how odd it is that my life is still measured in school years. How, for 9 months of the year, nearly everyone in the world is 17 years old. But I age.

Before work yesterday, I sat in the chair at the physiotherapist’s office facing a mirror while the twenty-something therapist put my shoulders through a series of diagnostic tests.

When I am confronted unexpectedly with my own image, it is always a little jarring.

This old woman.

Don’t get me wrong, I don’t have an image of myself as a twenty-something. Or even forty-something. I know what I look like. I know what bits of me look like in the magnifying mirror when I clean my skin or cover the broken capillaries on my nose with green concealer, and the sallow tint of the thin skin under my eyes with purple. The closer one looks, the more one observes the decomposing of the image: like a Seurat painting.

Perception creates reality. Realities.

I am becoming/have become a patchwork of colors that are as incongruous as childhood memories; where everything only creates the whole with a good deal of perspective. Perspectives. What makes sense today, may not make sense tomorrow. Today I accept the woman in the mirror. Tomorrow I will do my best to ignore her – the pathetic crone in fine clothes. (“Why are you even trying?”)

Distance. Imagination. Maybe I have become so complex that one needs to step back to take in the whole? Maybe I need to step back.

And step up.

Over the past few years, I have seen a lot of older women in the gym. The skin on their arms, stomachs, and legs tell me their age, but at some point, I stopped judging them by their skin. And by that, I mean that I have stopped looking away in fear: “This will happen to me”. No doubt because it has already happened to me.

Now I observe how they balance elegantly on one leg as they tie a shoelace. I see the taut muscles under the lax skin. One literally needs to look deeper to see the strength and beauty.

And I admire them.

Maybe it makes sense that as we age one needs to take a step back to see the beauty. Not to obscure the details, but rather to appreciate how the details accumulated over a long life work together to create a whole.

Like a Seurat painting.