I have a neighbor who’s a wonderful human being, but when I saw her go to the mailbox to get her mail this morning, I realized she was wearing a costume. No, there wasn’t vampire blood dripping from her mouth, and she wasn’t in a Dora the Explorer outfit, but she was definitely in a costume. She wore the costume of no change.
My husband and I were the first people to move into the new homes in our Southern California housing tract 35 years ago. Two days later, she and her husband became neighbors in the six home cul-de-sac. When I saw her today, I realized she hasn’t changed anything for 35 years. Even the robe she wore to get the mail was the same color as the one from years ago. (Certainly, it couldn’t have been the same one!) Her hair style is exactly the same, her clothes are the same — no, I don’t think they’re the same ones she wore 35 years ago, but the style hasn’t deviated a bit from then. She’s definitely wearing the costume of no change.
My costume for many years was as Tom’s wife and Shelly and Mike’s mother. But then the children left home, my husband changed careers and I became an art and antique appraiser and then a yoga studio owner. My costume of Soccer team mother and Girl Scout leader changed into one of an art appreciator. I definitely wore “artier” clothes then. Later, when I owned yoga studios and taught, I adopted the flowing clothes that yogis wore. When my husband became a California Legislator, my costume changed into one of suits and cocktail outfits. Now that I’m an author and at home most of the time, I’m back to where I started, wearing jeans and T-shirts, whatever’s most comfortable.
Changing careers dictated the changes in my “costume.” But what about all the people who stay in the same career for many years? Do they wear the same things, are their hairstyles the same, do they drive the same make of car? Many people take comfort in the sense of familiarity that comes with keeping things as they’ve always been. I realize it can be pretty scary to suddenly have a dramatic haircut or wear a new style. To some degree, most people resist change.
When I was an antique and art appraiser, I began to notice something I found very interesting. Most people stopped buying things at a certain time in their lives and their homes reflected it. The furniture, the objets d’art, the kitchen items — there was nothing new after a certain time. I understand not spending money on something that isn’t needed. It’s kind of like the old adage, “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” But those homes looked dated, as if their very souls were gone.
Our son was in town a few years ago and commented that it was time for us to change the door handles. They looked old. Well, they probably did, after all, we’d had the same ones for over 30 years. We got new ones and the house looked a little more modern! But it took someone else to point it out to us. We’d stopped noticing.
So, what are the positives of change? Those who specialize in aging urge us to work crossword puzzles, learn a language, travel and do new things so our brains stay active. Well, if we put on a new costume, aren’t we doing the same thing?
Looking at the New York Times Sunday crossword puzzle, reading the first 20 clues and realizing you don’t know one of the answers, can be a very humbling experience. But then you get a couple of answers and you begin to play off of those. You’re using the old to do the new. That’s not only satisfying, it’s exciting. Why not try on a new costume?
A lot of the resistance to changing our appearance is worrying about what people will think. Children, spouses, friends — what will they think? Well, they may actually be tired of the old costume you’re wearing, but didn’t want to say anything. You’ll never know until you experiment. And just like doing that crossword puzzle, it may be a little uncomfortable at first, but like anything else, after a while it’ll become second nature. And if it’s a disaster, you always have the option to try on another costume or go back to the original one. Hair will grow back!
So, when you open the door Halloween evening, treat yourself as well as the goblins and ghosts!