Thursday, March 25, 2010

Birthday Reflections

As I approach my 61st birthday tomorrow, my 24-year old daughter asked me this morning via iChat, "do you feel any different being a year older?" My reply was, "No, because this isn't a milestone birthday like last year's was."

Turning 60 was a biggie. I felt a need to share that milestone birthday with my girlfriends and to mark it as a passage. About a dozen of us gathered for an evening of conversation, food and wine last year. Deborah, a friend of 40 years, even flew in from California to join us. Melissa, more than twenty years younger than the rest of us, brought beads. My girlfriends created a charm bracelet, interwoven with poetic words, to honor me, our friendship and our passages.

The company of women has been important to me since the first glimmers of my feminist chops in my teens. A year ago, I had been traveling back and forth between Colorado and Washington state, as well as traveling pretty constantly doing church work, which made me feel disconnected to any place or community. I wanted to reconnect. As I approached the passage into my seventh decade, I really needed reassurance that my girlfriends were still my community of support.

Together, we women have endured cancer, divorce, cheating husbands, troubled children, money problems, and more. Together, we've talked into the night, taken trips, rescued stranded children and each other, and more. Together, our sisterhood has stood up for battered women, animal rights, job security, our children at school, and more. It's the more that keeps the friendship and the community of support going. We’ve managed to stay connected even as we’ve changed the circles of relationships, moving to different churches, new neighborhoods and new jobs.

I’ve experienced emotional change as I’ve aged - a relaxing into an openness to ask for and to receive support. I no longer feel driven to put on the appearance of being a "strong woman" or the one who doesn't need commiseration. Some of that emotional growth has been the result of intentional emotional and spiritual work on my part for which I do feel a sense of accomplishment. Some of the growth I attribute to the healing power of time, which, from my perspective, has pushed me towards wholeness.

I realize that not everyone gets called to health, that some get pushed into psychic holes from which they never really climb out. There is a “stuckness” that happens to some of us. The disappointments somehow aren’t allowed to fade into the past, but become obsessed about in the present. We allocate emotional fuel to old stories that keep them current.

My daughter has often said that it's a shame that I don't cry. It's not that I've never cried, but I just don't find any release or purpose in crying. As a teenager, I was the "serious one," and as an adult, I've been the "responsible one." When I have wept heart-wrenching tears, I felt such despair that I don't ever want to go there again, if I can choose not to. Those were instances of abandonment and rejection by people whom I thought loved me as much as I loved them. Crying never made me feel better, and crying never made them love me more.

The school of hard knocks has been a consistent teacher to me. But, it is also true that the times have changed. I grew up in a cultural setting where "sucking it up" and "toughing it out" were considered virtues that every self-respecting, self-sacrificing female should own in abundance. My mother has certainly modeled those virtues for me as she has repeatedly rolled up her sleeves and plunged into whatever work or hardship lay before her, mostly keeping her despair and sadness to herself.

I no longer try to judge or evaluate the rightness or wrongness of one’s feelings or experiences. They are what they are. I’m into acceptance these days, acceptance of what has happened to me, and acceptance of my part and my feelings in those experiences. And crying won’t make any of it different. I think back to the words of a psychiatrist I saw thirty years ago, who told me that revisiting and analyzing the origins of my emotional landscape was a luxury, and asked me if I really felt a need to indulge that luxury in order to have a good life. I decided for me, the answer is “No.”


PseudoPiskie said...

Here's a huge virtual birthday hug, Lelanda. I hope someday we can share a real hug.

Will you have the same angst at 65? or 72? I am having some difficulty realizing that I will be 70 in July but I don't have any emotion attached to it.


Dear Shelley,

Thanks for the virtual hug! Yes, I hope we'll share a real one someday, too.

I don't feel particularly angst filled, if angst means anxiety, apprehension and insecurity. I do feel deeply though, and as a writer, I find myself examining my own and others' feelings persistently.

Age and aging certainly aren't what we anticipated way back when. Cultural expectations have changed beyond anything we might have predicted and, in my opinion, for the better. I wouldn't want to turn back time. I pray for enough mental agility to keep up with what's new and to enjoy a lot of it.