It was the gem of my day. I entered the spa expecting to have the structure of my eyebrows reshaped. I expected that I would leave looking fresher because let’s face it eyebrows make a face. I expected a lot but I didn’t expect the gem that I found. The gem was Nirmala, a short, fifty-something year old Indian woman. She not only threaded my eyebrows to perfection but her spirit literally brightened my day. She made what could have been an appointment full of pretenses about something real. She reminded me of something that has always been quite unsettling.
The back story on Nirmala, to the best of my recollection, is that she was born in India. She ended up moving to California and enrolled in paralegal school. She became a registered paralegal and for fifteen years attempted to find a job in that area. Nirmala was never offered a job. She recently opened a very chic upscale spa where she offers several services. She is in the beginning stages of her business, where the costs of running it are not adding up to how much money she is actually making. She is coming up short every month and is having a hard time just paying the $3,000 for renting property space. Her husband, also from India, has been a little more lucky in finding a job in his area of expertise; however, he is in a position where he is contracted monthly so there is no real job stability. Next month Nirmala’s husband could be out of a job. Out of respect for his wife and her business ventures, he takes the money that he earns at his own job, saying that he is blessed to have a job so that he can help her. Nirmala’s husband foots the bill for any expenses where she’s short.
While her story speaks to many issues, my favorite being what it says about love and selflessness, there was something deeper to this story that she felt comfortable enough to reveal to me. For some reason Nirmala trusted me, a twenty-three year old, to talk about the insecurities that America has placed on her because of her age. Nirmala attributes the recent reason that she has not found paralegal work as being because of her age. She simply wants an entry level position, yet, feels that the companies she has interviewed with would rather hire someone young.
It would appear from the outside, right when you step into this very upscale modern spa that the person that greets you has it all. It would seem that Nirmala, an Indian woman in America has proven that America’s sensationalized concept of this American Dream really does exist. She has made it, she’s the image of success, right? No. She hasn’t made it because what she really wants to do, paralegal work which she is qualified to do, she is unable to. This woman whose presence alone is rewarding, as a result of an ageist culture (America) is not allowed to do what she wants. And the basis is not even as deep and societally implicated as race, it’s on something even more superficial--our dysfunctional youth obsession . The struggle, our struggle, is how we qualify youth as beauty and lustfulness and maturity in age as death and ugliness. We value twenty year olds more than we value eighty year olds. In our country there is no relevance to someone who is elderly. The older you get the more invisible you become. It’s no wonder that the elderly are so irritable and angry. They deserve the most respect but get the least. There is a small window of being taken seriously in this country and once you get to be about fifty---that’s it. You’re done.
Nirmala cannot comprehend how our country treats people because of age. That is because India’s culture is more age friendly. I would surmise to say that most other countries put the wisdom of age on a pedestal. Instead, we put the most naïve people walking around on it. We would rather put trust in faces without wrinkles. Other countries respect those wrinkles because of what they connote.
I told Nirmala that my mother is a paralegal and she burst, “She is so lucky, I wish I was her”. Hmph. I insisted that she didn’t. Worst than not ever being allowed to enter into a career because of age is working in one since you’re practically a baby, your very first job, staying with that company for approximately thirty years and because of age feeling like your relevance is waning. Her experience and my mother’s is similar not because they share the commonality of being minority women but because they share the experience of simply, aging. A heartbreaking experience and rejection we can all look forward to.
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