Monday, December 13, 2010

License to be Bold, At Any Age

Across from me on the subway were three older ladies. One wore a purple hat and red gloves, the other two both wore red hats and red scarves.

Was it red or purple that those ladies that travel together in the same bold, life-affirming, I’m-still-kicking-and-I’m-cooler-than-you color wear, I wondered, looking down at my own long purple scarf.

"Are you part of that red hat group, or purple?" I leaned across to ask.

They looked at each other and laughed. No, it was purely by accident that they all wore red and purple, they weren't part of the Red Hat Society, though they knew of it.

"There's a group of Loise’s too who travel around together," one said with a shrug, cocking her purple cap with eyes closed against the ridiculousness of it all.

"I guess sharing a name is as good a reason as any to hang out with people," I said with a sarcastic laugh.

I gave these ladies gold stars and they were excited, though they declined when I asked them if I could take their picture. They wanted no publicity for being their bold selves. They were doing it only for themselves, for one another, for people who mattered in their lives. I loved it.

There is something about being able to pull off bold colors, to wear them proudly like a badge of courage amidst the New York City crowds. It marks a bravery we hopefully find in youth but that, often, doesn't come except with age if at all.

There is a poem by Brit Jenny Joseph, from 1961, when she was 30, that inspired the Red Hat Society's development and their mission to, among other things, "celebrate life...forge solid friendship...explore new interests...fulfill potential...and lead healthy lifestyles." No small order.

Jenny Joseph

Ms. Joseph's words are words to live by, at any age:


When I am an old woman I shall wear purple

With a red hat which doesn't go, and doesn't suit me.

And I shall spend my pension on brandy and summer gloves

And satin sandals, and say we've no money for butter.

I shall sit down on the pavement when I'm tired

And gobble up samples in shops and press alarm bells

And run my stick along the public railings

And make up for the sobriety of my youth.

I shall go out in my slippers in the rain

And pick the flowers in other peoples' gardens

And learn to spit.

You can wear terrible shirts and grow more fat

And eat three pounds of sausages at a go

Or only bread and pickles for a week

And hoard pens and pencils and beermats and things in boxes.

But now we must have clothes that keep us dry

And pay our rent and not swear in the street

And set a good example for the children.

We must have friends to dinner and read the papers.

But maybe I ought to practice a little now?

So people who know me are not too shocked and surprised

When suddenly I am old, and start to wear purple.

Thank you Ms. Joseph! Gold star for trying to inspire yourself and others. Hopefully, you still seize life in the same manner, whether you wear red and purple or not.

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