Old ladies scare me. Powdery souls, half material body, half ghost. Faded, wrinkled, shrunken like old bedsheets. Invisible lives lived in half-step measure, shuffled into insignificance by the cool hand of time. Blood-red lipstick smeared beyond lip lines. Lopsided eye linings. Rouged cheeks bleeding streaks of strawberry pink.

Long before I became one myself, ageism had already burrowed its nasty message about old women into my imagination. When 60 and then 65 and 70 rolled in like unfailing ocean waves hitting the beach, I was afraid my face too would scare people. I looked for signs of fright in people’s eyes, particularly the eyes of children. Or signs I had become invisible. When bank tellers and airport security men started calling me “young lady,” I feared it was the beginning of the end. Oh, for a witch’s curse to hiss at the condescending phrases of the young.

I turned 74 this month, almost three-quarters of a century. Old. I am here in my bright green dress to tell those of you who may also be infested by ageism: It was all a lie. If you are lucky enough to be healthy and your partner, if you have one, is, too, and if you aren’t worried about having a place to live or enough to eat, this is the best of times. Tomorrow one of those pilings holding up my luck could fall, but for now, this is the best of times.

Don’t sit pinch-faced regret or blue-lipped resentment beside me, there’s no room. Wonder has bloomed again. Gratitude, too. Ambition has blown her bugle and left town, and in her place I watch the tender green ferns unfold in the forest in spring. And as Albert Einstein said about the advantages of old age: “If someone tells me to wear socks, I don’t have to.”

Everything about being this age, this old, has to be re-written. While it may be true that sometimes my plum lipstick strays below my lip line, all the rest is made up. My grandchildren believe me when I tell them every new wrinkle they discover is another sign of how much I love them and examine my face often for evidence of that love.

Crone: “An old woman who is thin and ugly.”

Maybe it’s a lie created out of fear.

Last month, Nancy Pelosi, 78, looking splendiferous in a hot pink dress and encircled by children and grandchildren, was sworn in as speaker of the House of Representatives, second in line for the presidency. Watching her sit beside the president in the Oval Office last month, while calmly and firmly correcting his inaccuracies about the danger of immigrants, is a joy. Be afraid, Mr. President. Be very afraid. A smart, fierce, still-beautiful old woman is watching you. And she isn’t on your side.

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