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  • Writer's picturestephanieraffelock

We Matter At Every Age

On January 30th, Chelsie Kryst, a woman who had worn the crown and sash of “Miss USA,” ended her own life by jumping out of a window. An essay penned not long before her death, offered a glimpse into the heart-wrenching concern that haunted her. It read in part:

“A grinning, crinkly-eyed glance at my achievements thus far makes me giddy about laying the groundwork for more, but turning 30 feels like a cold reminder that I’m running out of time to matter in society’s eyes — and it’s infuriating.”

“After a year like 2020, you would think we’d learned that growing old is a treasure and maturity is a gift not everyone gets to enjoy.”

The line that grabs me is this: I’m running out of time to matter in society’s eyes –

I know that feeling. As I approach my 70th birthday, I often wonder about time running out, but my worry is in the literal sense. I wonder if I will have the time that I need to explore and expand on what I think, feel and write about. The biggest gift would be more hours to finish or feel resolve with the things that I love doing. But for Chelsie, running out of time had to do with the painful concern as to whether or not she mattered. This isn’t just paranoia. We live in a culture where beyond a certain age, women especially, are seen as used up and insignificant. When ageism seeps into the culture, it strangles our hearts, and cuts us off from celebrating the remarkable and noble passage that aging is.

What I often see is a collective fear that only youth, youthful ideas and youthful beauty have value. There’s a panicked undercurrent to stay as young as possible for as long as possible. There is some truth that society looks at older people with a kind of self-protecting disdain. And yet the secret that so many older people know is that if we are lucky, truly lucky and graced, we will grow old.

My heart breaks for the thirty-year-old who felt that her age was a cold reminder that she was running out of time to matter. It’s hard to believe that in 2022, we still put sashes and crowns on young women, parading them around as if the genetic material that created a face and body was an ultimate accomplishment. That how you look is what makes you matter dismisses the heart and soul of what it means to be a human being. Be young and we will honor you. Grow old and you are irrelevant.

I’d be lying if I didn’t say that I too have wondered whether or not I mattered. We live in a society that is unkind about trivia like wrinkles, or athletic prowess, the size of your thighs or breasts. But one of the great lesson of getting older is really a life lesson meant for all ages, and that is to know, name, and claim the significance that comes from within you regardless of the forces from the outside pressing against that.

As an older woman, I want to take the hand of younger women and talk to them about the nobility of growing old; to tell them that they will never grow old unless they stop being curious and grateful; I want to assure those women that power, strength, and significance are the product of self-acceptance and self-kindness and that those qualities are the soul work of every life.

In a perfect world, I would burn the sashes and crowns; bring down all the organizations that still sponsor what we’ve come to call beauty pageants but have nothing to do with real beauty. And, then I would offer this: You matter. You belong. You are part of the woman story. Part of the human story. Your light is the stuff of stardust and without you the world cannot shine the light that is needed for healing and evolution.

Rest in Peace, Chelsie Kryst. Your loss moved us so, because . . . your life mattered.

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