Monday, May 28, 2012

Possibilities...or Not

Without the grace of the exquisite flowering shrubs to which we Oregonians are addicted, spring would be so frustrating that no one would live here, I’m sure of it.  March and April are merely extensions of winter, only with longer hours of daylight.  Who cares about April showers when we’ve already slogged through six long, dark months featuring that very weather event?  When May finally arrives on the heels of all that dreariness, we are SO ready.  Yet even May never entirely gives over to spring; winter can and does return out of nowhere on a regular basis all month long. 

Still, the flowers bloom.  The blossoms of May are even more welcome here in Oregon than they ever were in the icy climes of the Great Lakes/Midwest.  For almost half my life, I’ve been enchanted with the blooming bushes that thrive in the Northwest’s acid soil—azaleas, rhododendrons, dogwoods and camellias.  And every yard, no matter how small or mean, boasts at least one fruit tree with bright cheery blooms.  It is unfortunate that much of this display is wasted under still-gray and drippy skies.  We don’t see the sun with any dependable regularity until July, when the sky simply runs out of rain and for the next three months we are dry, dusty and sun-baked.  Almost ready to welcome the rain with open arms when it returns ‘round about mid-October…  

May is a difficult month for me, anyway.  It has become my Month of Endings.   Seventeen years ago, my sister died five days after my parents’ 50th Wedding Anniversary, two days after Mothers’ Day.  Those three days every May will always be connected to losses in my life—my sister, and eventually Dad, and then Mom.  In May of 2001, I established residence some distance from what was left of my sad and fractured family.  And in May, 2011, I closed the book on a chapter of my life which still has me confounded. 

I have come to terms, I think, with the passing of my parents and my sister.  My spiritual discoveries of the past few years have led me to think of death as not so much a tragedy, but rather something which we all experience sooner or later.  I believe the spirits of our beloved who have crossed into the next world remain part of our lives, even as they become part of Whatever Comes Next.  I have felt the presence of my sister, my mom and my dad so many times since they went on that I am certain they don’t ever leave us entirely.  They don’t linger to inspire sadness and be forever mourned, but to be honored as testimony to our connectedness to the circle of life and all Creation.

No, my honored dead are not a source of sorrow and trouble for me this May.   It’s the living I’m having trouble with.  Or maybe just Living.  The anniversary of the closing of the cafĂ© has deposited me in front of  a door I have aggressively avoided for an entire year.  And, believe me, I have my arms stretched out and my legs splayed, every finger and toe gripping the door jamb while Something inexorably applies pressure from behind.  The Rest Of My Life is on the other side of that door, and I still have no clue how to deal with it.  I don’t even know what it looks like…I only know it looks nothing like anything I have done so far.  It’s a foreign country, maybe another planet.  I don’t know the language, I haven’t packed the right luggage, and I’m afraid that nothing I have ever had or done makes any sense there.  I don’t know anyone, and it doesn’t look like anyone I’ve known on this side of the door has any interest in coming along.

It has been truly frightening to realize that my “resume” has no value whatsoever relative to anything I decide to do going forward.  For forty years, my worth, my very existence, has been grounded in work.  Work for pay, that is.  Right up there at the top of the priority list has been “the job,” whatever it is.  It not only provides food for the table and the roof overhead, but it serves as social outlet, foundation and identity.  And if the job ends, explodes or turns sour (which it so often does) you get another one.  It is What You Do.  You have a job.  At some point, it’s impossible to tell whether you have a job or you are your job.  It took five years of intensive entanglement with the hardest, most all-consuming job ever to bring about the epiphany that this is no way to live.  Not for me, anyway.

So now I know how I DON’T want to live.  But to give that up, to walk away from what has been the foundation of my life for—well, forever—is way harder than it seemed when this realization first dawned on me.  How does one chuck 90% of what one has been all about for forty years?  Actually, I guess it’s easy enough to chuck it, but you then have to replace it with something.  You can’t live out the rest of your days in this “I’m not gonna do THAT anymore” limbo.  I’ve been there for a year, and, trust me, it’s lost its attraction. 

And I can’t help but think my age is against me.  If I’d had this epiphany twenty years ago, or even ten, I would probably be a whole lot more excited about the possibilities.  One of the unfortunate things about the past year of idleness has been that I have had an opportunity to slow down and really feel my age.  For the first time in my life, I feel OLD.  I look in the mirror, and I see my mother.  I look at the lives of all the other people I know who are my age (or younger) and their big news is that they are getting ready to retire.  They aren’t starting new ventures.  They aren’t going to school.  They aren’t planning travel or volunteer work.  They’re turning off onto that misty road down into the tar pits. 

I have no desire or intention of going there yet; but I am hobbled by the conviction that there are limits to my opportunities.  And that is something I have never experienced before.  All my life, up until now, when I reached the end of something, there was time and energy to cook up another dream and go after it.  I may never have taken the best advantage of that, of my youth…but it was always comfortingly there.  If I crashed and burned, I was driven to pick myself up, bind my wounds and carry on.  And there was never a doubt that there was somewhere to carry on to.

While it frightens me that my age has made me redundant, I also understand that I have finally reached the point, experience-wise, that I know too much.  I have started all kinds of ventures, and had them end in all kinds of ways, and I’ve finally begun to get a sense of why things go the way they do for me.  I have a practical sense of my strengths and my weaknesses; so when something pops into my head as a “hey, I could do that!” it doesn’t take long for me to realize that, well, no…I probably could not do that.  I’ve spent a year formulating vague plans that have never made it off the drawing board, because I am, at last, all too realistic about my abilities (or lack thereof) and where they are likely to land me. 

And then there is the sure knowledge, for good and all, that wherever I go, whatever I do, it will be mine alone.  I finally get that my life is not to be blessed with a productive partnership.  Had I given this a lot of thought years ago, I would have understood this about myself much sooner and pointed my life in an entirely different direction.  But the realities of the culture into which I was born didn’t really allow room to consider the success of solitary pursuits.  That culture mandated that, at a certain age, you acquired a life partner, and the rest of your life was spent as one half of that partnership.  What I’ve come to realize so late in life is that this partnership, sans progeny, has its limits.  The partners remain more two separate people than two halves of a blended entity.  And one partner can not solve her life by dragging the other partner around in her wake.  She needs to buck up and get out there and find her own way.

As if it weren’t difficult enough to start over at any point in one’s journey.  Now, I have all this Knowledge keeping me from stepping out in blind faith and going after something.  Heck…I can’t even choose the thing I want to go after.  The only thing I do know is that I’m fed up with wallowing around in limbo.  Yes, the door is right there.  And I’m standing in front of it.  But I just can’t go there.  And it sucks to be so afraid of where you might go when you hate where you ARE as much as I do. 


  1. As I read along, I was thinking, give back, give more, and then I saw your phrase, volunteer work. With your love of writing, would you enjoy working with the Literacy council? Give someone the gift of reading your work and others?

  2. Lisa, I sooooo hear you...I too look in the mirror and see my mother. I look at my body and the weight that seems to appear over night and think, I. AM. OLD. sigh.

    I do hope the next thing grabs you so fast you don't have time to think about it. And, that it will be filled with refreshingly awesomeness...what ever that would be for you.

  3. For the last year, I have been wrestling with the fact that I'm 55 and the fear that I'm not going to live the life want from here on out. In my case, being half of that partnership relinquishes a whole lot of options/control. It's terrifying to feel the years slipping away. I feel so much of what you express here.

  4. Just want to shout out to Barbara that, for some reason, I get the email notices about your comments, but they don't appear here on the blog. I don't know if this is by design or mistake, but I wanted you to know that I am NOT deleting your comments and I do appreciate them.

  5. My choice was a half life or to find a life I could enjoy. My age has hit me smack dab in my face. I've realized that a lot of the things I wanted to do and have the skills to do, I'll no longer be considered for. I've seen it at too many interviews already. So, I'm learning to be happy with a paycheck and find what excites, challenges and fulfills me in other areas.