Photo: George Burns
The table next to me was making a lot of noise, celebrating a special occasion—five waiters singing "Happy birrrrrthday, dear Marilyn...," and our side of the room applauding as Marilyn blew out the single candle on the chocolate cupcake she'd been presented with. Someone asked if I'd take a picture with the group.
"Sure," I said, and casually asked, "How old is Marilyn?" to no one in particular.
The whole table laughed nervously. One person said in mock outrage, "I can't believe you're asking that!"
Marilyn ducked her head modestly and told me, "I dare not say."
I was at first amused, then taken aback. "You want a picture honoring your birthday, but you don't want to say how old you are?"
"Well, I don't want to say it out loud. I've been a wreck for weeks knowing this day was coming. It just makes me sick to think about it."
"It makes you sick to think that you've marked another year, that every worry, every strife, every challenge, every delight, every breath every day was leading to this moment, and now you made it and you're celebrating it—with one little candle—and denying it at the same time?"
"I'm not denying it," she said. "I just don't want to be 43."
I gasped in mock horror: "You're 43? Oh my, I see why you wouldn't want anyone to know that." Everyone laughed that nervous laughter again.
We took the picture, but I didn't stop thinking about Marilyn and her friends and their web of untruths.
Recently, on Super Soul Sunday, I talked with Don Miguel Ruiz, author of one of my favorite books, The Four Agreements. According to Don Miguel, "Ninety-five percent of the beliefs we have stored in our minds are nothing but lies, and we suffer because we believe all these lies." One of these lies that we believe and practice and reinforce is that getting older is getting uglier. We then judge ourselves and others, trying to hold on to the way we were.
To the point, I would add, of "being sick" about turning 43.
(By the way, Marilyn, most of us are just hitting our stride in our 40s, ready to break out into our real selves.)
I'm well aware that trying to stay fresh and current can be a challenge, especially if you live a lot of your life in public view. Of course I want to look my best. I want to feel strong and vibrant. But I know for sure that the pathway to your best life isn't the route of denial. It's owning every moment. Staking a claim in right now. And, with gratitude, embracing the age you are.
So I'm embracing the age I am...59. And I'm looking forward to the next step of the journey.
More of What Oprah Knows for Sure
From the April 2013 issue of O, The Oprah Magazine
We Hear You!