Getting Off the Escalator
We weren’t quite sure what to expect last September when we rolled our rental car onto the ferry at Uig, bound for the Isle of Harris. Due to an incoming gale we were the “last ferry out”, something I seem to have a knack for experiencing. (Don’t believe me? See this post.) The skies were merely overcast and drizzly when we left but about thirty minutes into our journey the wind made an appearance, sweeping down from the mountains like a winged battalion and by the time we swayed and tossed into Tarbert we were in the center of a full-throated, theatrical storm. Our car climbed the hill above the harbor and we rolled our way through the lunar landscape of Harris, waves crashing on our right, winds howling outside our tightly closed windows, till we came to the glorious sight of Scarista Beach with its Caribbean green waters roiling and churning in the gale. Looking up to the hillside on our left, we could just make out the serene presence of Scarista House, our home for the next few days.
The wind grabbed the car door, throwing it open with such force it nearly popped off its metal hinges and we were literally bent double against its power as we inched our way to the front door. The Songwriter tugged and pulled it open only to have it immediately slammed shut behind us the moment we entered. Inside all was quiet, save for the sound of rattling windows, whistling wind and crackling fire. Tea, shortbread and Victoria Sponge were laid out in the book-strewn study just to the left of the entry. A handsome Scot appeared and offered to take our coats and carry our luggage up to our seaview room. Honestly, if my heavenly welcome is half as wonderful, I shall be utterly thrilled.
Scarista House is small and elegant, the sort of place one reads about in Agatha Christie novels but never quite believes exists in reality. There are only a few perfectly appointed rooms, and whilst we were there it seemed as though the assembled guests had been curated for their intelligence, curiosity and wit. Following highly individual adventures each day we would all meet before dinner for drinks, appetizers and conversation. Strangely, and rather happily, I found myself the youngest woman there so I spent most of my time listening, observing, and filing away little tidbits of wisdom for later use. The topics discussed before the fire were riveting, wildly varied, and I was entranced to see women leading in the discussions by an overwhelming degree. Hands down, the most beautiful woman in the room had just turned eighty, an impeccable beauty with nary a trace of make-up and an ever-present smile. I took note that she was the most curious person among us. One particularly insightful note came from a women of seventy who said, of turning fifty, “My dears, that was the year I got off the escalator.” We all laughed. Her meaning was clear without all the details. Her fiftieth year was the one in which she stopped competing, stopped comparing, stopped striving for perfection.
To be perfectly candid, I’ve always preferred the stairs over the escalator. I’ve never been tempted into any sort of competition with my fellow females. But there have been times, sad to say, when I’ve fallen victim to the sin of comparison. For instance, looking around in my teen years I noticed I was of a decidedly lighter complexion than any of my friends. This prompted an ill-advised spate of sun bathing, an activity that proved not only ineffective but wholly unpleasant. I quickly gave that up and fully embraced high SPFs and large hats. Then there was the time when, upon reading that a model I admired used this regimen for shiny hair, I slathered my long hair in mayonnaise. Seriously. This resulted in nothing more than an strong olfactory resemblance to egg salad that made me queasy, not shiny. And I’m sorry to report that recently, after spying a photograph of Cate Blanchett in Vogue UK, I thought my eyebrows should be darker. This ill-advised comparison to the great Cate caused me to purchase a highly recommended eyebrow product, albeit in the very lightest colour. The result? Well, have you seen those internet photos of babies whose wee faces have had eyebrows penciled in by mothers obviously desperate for a laugh? Well, that was me and The Songwriter did laugh, oh indeed he did. So yes, I’m sticking with the light eyebrows God gave me. They go with my face.
These are humorous examples, notable for their triviality. But comparison and competition are toxic indulgences and ones to which we women seem unduly susceptible. I have observed this it in young women (from the ubiquitous kissy face photo poses to the alteration of voices into the Kardashian squawk) and in elderly ones (in the dwindling down of personal style and the conformity to more “acceptable” forms of hairstyle and dress), and it is always a poison to the one quality that really makes us all so special: Individualty. And of course, insidious in its subtleness is the danger that, slowly, almost unnoticed, we slide from the trivial to the vital, altering our beliefs and opinions to conform with others until we are nothing more than a shadow, an echo, of who we might have been.
Listening to those beautiful, interesting women on the Isle of Harris while the sea crashed outside and the fire blazed inside, I was encouraged about my future, strengthened in my own individuality and very grateful to have been granted an audience to listen to women much older than me. I wish the same for all of you this year. May we all “get off the escalator” and march into this new year confident in who we are, young, old or in-between.