She gets on the bus. Small, slightly bent back, lines carved deep into the skin of her face. Her hair is carefully curled, a perfect silver. Her clothes range in shades of beige, her tights gathering in rolls around her ankles, her swollen feet uncomfortably cramped into sturdy pumps.
She shows her bus-pass to the driver, before slowly making her way to a seat. Gingerly, she lowers herself down into those seats specially allocated for the elderly and infirm, sighs deeply, adjusts her bifocals and turns to gaze out of the window. The ghost of her reflection gazes back with unseeing eyes, twice mirrored in the lenses of her spectacles.
Absent-mindedly she raises her fingers, ringed with the love tokens of a bygone age, and traces the lips that once knew what it was to be kissed quickly, with innocent desire at the back of the cinema, the scent of popcorn and caramel clinging to clothes and skin.
Another deep sigh rises from the very roots of her soul, and her breath fogs the window, clouding the glass, obscuring her reflection, resigning memories of first kisses to the long distant past that occasionally felt so close, so there….
She sits there as the bus rattles along, stop after stop after stop. People get on. People get off. But no-one looks twice at her. In fact, no-one even looks once. And she thinks, some days, most days, her world of reverie and memory is a friendlier place. At least in that world she doesn’t feel invisible.
There, she gets to be the main attraction – the heroine of her own story, the one who stands in the spotlight, the object of attention and affection. Just like she once was in this everyday world fifty years ago.
But here, in this world, she closes her eyes and disappears. Just another old lady, ignored, unseen, transparent. A premature ghost in a world that only has eyes of the beauty of youth.
One of the saddest aspects of our society is the way that we treat elderly women. We disregard them as though they are some embarrassment of the species, a blot on the landscape of the everyoung, rather than the true treasures that they are.
We don’t even have to train ourselves to ignore them. It’s almost as though we instinctively allow our gaze to skip over them, these crones of Western culture. And yet, if we look back at the way the crone has been represented in the ancient past, we see a venerated wise woman; we see Hecate.
Hecate was the crone goddess that completed the divine triumvirate: Hebe, Hera, Hecate; Selene, Artemis, Hecate; Persephone, Demeter, Hecate. She represents the completion of the cycle – our movement back towards whence we came.
And, perhaps, this is why we avert our eyes from her in contemporary culture. We have become a civilization fixated on the appearance of youth and the aspiration of longevity. We have ignored the cycle of life in our futile attempts to arrest the process of age.
But with this, we have lost, and continue to lose, so much: perspective, wisdom, community, respect, dignity, compassion… For us to truly see our older women, our glorious crones, it will take an enormous adjustment of our culture’s value system. The wonderful thing is, is that it starts with just one person – you.
That woman on the bus… she hasn’t spoken to anyone all day other than the cashier at the checkout. The world rushes past her oblivious to her presence, uncaring of her troubles, deaf to her voice. Speak to her. Let her know she is seen, that she is heard and that her voice is still valued. She needs to be acknowledged, and you need to hear what she has to tell you.
Start with hello. You’ll both feel better for it.