The Emancipation of the Middle-Aged
THERE is one kind of emancipation that is never very jubilantly received. Yet it is emancipation of a peculiarly comfortable quality. No woman ever remembers the exact date when the order for release arrived, but some day she knows with sudden thankfulness that she is free. She goes shopping one morning and sees a joyous bevy of attractive young persons obviously absorbed in filling the rôle of pretty girl. And she sighs with relief and blesses the years that have begun to crowd rather thickly around her fireside. They bring such blessed immunity.
For the pretty girls, and all the faithful endeavorers to be pretty, are anxiously adjusting and readjusting their furs every other minute; and all the minutes between are spent in delicately drawing their veils a fraction of an inch lower, or patting away a wrinkle or two from the collars of their blouses, or putting their shoulders forward or backward as the case may be, that their coats may hang faultlessly and express a drooping elegance or a buoyant litheness. The very backs of their heads, the swing of their skirts, the angle :—or curve — of their elbows, the click of their heels, betray a consciousness of their responsibilities, a consuming anxiety lest a hairpin or a skirt-fold or a shoe-lace may be behaving lawlessly. And if this thing should come to pass, it would be a cataclysmic calamity. No less! For some one might notice the fatal misadjustment. Some one? Nay, every one! The very shop windows would mock and torture with inquisitorial gaze. (We believe this with searing conviction when we are young.)
The older woman remembers it all, — how well! Until that day which she can never remember, when Time set her free without saying anything about it till afterward, she, too, had been bond-slave to the duty of being pretty, But these tense days be overpast forever. A tranquil inconspicuousness Time hath vouchsafed her. Oh, the peace of knowing that a cinder may light upon her cheek — even upon her nose — without blighting her entire future; that if her most cherished tailor skirt is splashed with mud, this is not a blot on the family escutcheon, and that even the occasional wearing of goloshes does not necessarily mean that she must dwell in Coventry henceforward.
And when she reaches that state which is even more loftily calm, that high philosophy which teaches her to recover her balance after slipping on a muddy crossing without immediately losing it again at the unmistakable sound of a titter — then that serene woman-spirit may be said to have attained Nirvana, and thereafter even the most scathing allusions to the grapes that are sour cannot disturb her invincible content.