Jake, my old black lab is my constant companion. I have recently purchased for him a new dog bed, round and soft and comfortable to rest his bones. I drag it with me everywhere so he can lay beside me as I write or play music. He had surgery this year and is recovering so well, I can’t stand the thought of him in the same kind of discomfort I am experiencing as my own body ages.
I must say I have taken pretty good care of myself, except for a lifetime of smoking which I have been struggling to throw out after more than 30 years. Luckily I have been a “healthy hypocrite”, as I always felt my penchant for vegetarianism and smoking combined qualified me for.
Almost fifty, rounding some sort of weird corner this year. I have to admit that most birthdays don’t feel like this, and although I don’t really want to give any number a higher importance than another, this one feels different.
The forties were reflective, and now I feel a kind of delicious motivation to move forward and find more direction – to not waste any time. My kids have all grown up, my life changed in one rapid flurry of deaths and births and craziness and suddenly, I feel like it is all very mysterious and exciting. It is not a bad feeling – it is an aliveness, and frankly I like it.
I just got a little job in a boutique where I spend all day talking to people about spiritual things or feeling good or love and stuff – really – I can’t believe I get paid for this.
I am producing an album – which may just have turned into two – and that is just INCREDIBLE. It’s a wonderful experience and pushes me to the far limits of my knowing – which means I am learning every day and it makes me all feel very fulfilled and incredibly happy.
But I see clearly how so many things got me to here…and there must be something much bigger and smarter than me in charge of it all.
They say you start to do this kind of thinking at fifty. I don’t know why I thought I would somehow be above it all. Fifty would come and go with nary a glance. I mean – I have friends who are in their twenties and friends who are in their seventies. I don’t put allot of value in age. I love my friends for who they are.
But somehow, I feel like I’m joining a club – in a way. The first half-century – the “We Made It Up The Hill Club. Two things to report to you:
1- The view is lovely.
2- I’d much rather be going down the hill, if there is such thing (maybe cause it’s just getting easier?) – than backwards.
I would never want to revert to my twenties – those were interminably difficult years for me, trying to be someone I wasn’t literally made me insane – which was the incessant theme of my thirties.
The fucked up medicated thirties – I reflect on it affectionately.
Thank God for the crazies I say – without it I surely would not have become the musician or artist that I am today.
“These things don’t come from visiting Disney.”
You know what I mean.
My forties have been in introduction into the middle of the Oreo cookie of life. Not easy – no good life is – but more certain in my skin. More accomplishing in terms of my inner knowledge. I have loved my forties from the first day when my family and friends threw me a whopping party and my mom baked me the best cake ever – to the tumult of a life changed as my children moved into their adulthood and my husband and I were forced to find new ground. It has been a blast. Seriously.
In my forties I was able to reach past myself in my music and all my art, and find a person on stage or with a pencil that really had very little to do with “me”, but more a full expression of the joy I feel when I do what I am made to do.
Joy is a wonderful feeling. I think it’s what god feels like – if you want to call “It” that.
I think every person has the ability to access this feeling inside of them, in some way – visual, speaking, music, creating – and I feel very lucky and grateful to have had the chance to know the feeling of being fully alive and my complete self – which is how it feels when you do the thing you are meant to do with “all your might”.
But I can see myself going in another direction now…there is more to it. Something more “inside” than “outside”, if you now what i mean. This other sort of deeper unnameable – almost feels magical – layer of life that we enter into in our fifties and onward. I guess its why they call it the age of wisdom. A new kind of discovery.
This actually surprises me a little. I guess I somehow figured that once you knew how to do your best thing, you were done. Life 101 complete. Here is your diploma.
You work, you retire you’re done.
Things we never ask ourselves, until we need to.
Let’s face it, many of us were raised in families dripping with protestant work ethic and a “basic sustenance” mentality – meaning we were taught that hard work every day would give you what you wanted, which specifically was; security, a house, family, food, money and a good reputation. And I suppose that when you came from where our parents and grandparents came from, it makes perfect sense that you would reach for the things that would enable you to establish basic survive in the best way.
But we are a generation that is called to want more. Less stuff – more understanding. Less security, more truth. And we look for it through various routes of creativity. The security that the previous generation sought, was what afforded this creative and open minded generation to have the “life space” to be able to explore like this. I recognize and appreciate this very much.
People who are born into war, poverty, inequality or any substandard experience simply do not have the time or ability to explore themselves in any other way than their natural ability to find survival.
I have had a extremely and I would venture to say, inordinately fortunate life though – privileged in the biggest ways, as they say. I have never gone hungry, I have never been without shelter and I have never been without people who love and care for me.
I am lucky in other ways too; I have seen the world and lived amongst people that would not normally in history have been able to mix, but because of the historical and technological time I was born in, our modes of transportation enabled me to travel to Africa, china and Europe with relative ease. And because by the time I came into my family my “siblings” had all grown up, there was more money to bring me with my parents to see things that naturally, change a person’s perspective of things, as well as affording me a ridiculously good and underused education.
I’d like to say the result of which is that I became very open minded.
A few weeks ago, one of my best and oldest friends in the world mentioned to me that he didn’t know very much about my father – that i hadn’t mentioned him allot in our years of conversation. This actually shocked me.
My father died when i was 30. It was a life transforming event that literally led me to the brink of knowing such extreme grief that i had to just – become a different person. I guess he was so important to me that talking about him made me incredibly sad for a long time. Grief is like that. But the other fantastic benefit of my forties is that I have had the time to reflect and understand, forgive and appreciate. I have also come out of the loop of raising children – and I feel only awe that we get through these experiences in tact. Having the responsibility for so many lives, is really an amazing thing.
But, he had a massive influence on everything I have done. His support of my life was unerring and undaunted actually. He was my champion, at least for the things I hold dear. My music, horses, love of nature – my free spirit and my big mouth. He really loved and encourage me to have strong opinions and stand up for what i believed in. Even though he insisted I was wrong or off track often, he was patient and enjoyed our conversations. These are things that I miss.
He was my grandfather and had adopted me – so I called him Dad. He was a very good teacher for so many things. I think his best lesson was encourage me to try absolutely everything at least once – dancing, food, drumming, singing, and appreciating all the beautiful things; churches and painting, statues and architecture, literature and poems – stories and legends. These were what I loved best. He taught me to appreciate old people, farmers and a good solid meal. He taught me to love nature and appreciate and respect its balance. He taught me to put in a good days work and treat people with respect.
Maybe it is only now, at the end of my first half century that I can see feel how much his teachings have benefited and influenced my life and the choices I have made.
I think we spend allot of time, well at least I have, telling ourselves all the ways our parents have screwed us up. But maybe not enough effort remembering or being aware of all the good things.
Maybe gratitude is the result of my forties? I don’t know. It’s not far enough away for me to have perspective.
We only know the wisdom of our ages in reflection.
Meanwhile, my body speaks to me of experiences I have had – even in my pain – which I have loved. Like when I damaged the center of my back in a horseback riding accident – a magnificently arrogant move (showing off for a boy) where I hopped on a horse in his paddock and he proceed to toss me over the fence, snapping two vertebrae in the center of my back when I landed in a horrifically twisted position sitting indelicately on the ground, in a now disheveled dress.
My back pain reminds me to be more gentle with myself and respect the animals I live with. I had to be taught to understand how to listen to the lessons of my body and respect it just like I was shown to respect nature.
But that is something you learn in your forties.
Meanwhile, the spring winds blow cold and I make another tea. It’s a good day for reflection and remembering.
I shift in my seat adjusting for my sore back and look down at Jake who lays peacefully snoring loudly sounding remarkably like my husband and I think –
Jake – Dad would have really liked you.