On Turning 55

Michael McGurk

If 50 was raising the timber frame; 55 was me climbing the timbers & tacking an evergreen branch to its peak. (That happened. There was no photo.)

“50 is the old age of youth,” it is said, “And the youth of old age.”

And it’s true. The fifties are all that.

Or is it just me?

I lost Lila at 55. She had more than a dozen grandbabies by then. But with time’s passing, it seems impossibly young to have been taken.

My older sister died last summer at 55 too and just a few years before her—my aunt.

My mother had 2 years on the 2 of them, alive until 57.

Which is to say—While the sun is shining, I’m making hay.

Advertisements

Incision

8 days. Until the full crossing. The threshold. Mother to Crone.
In my morning practice of oiling the body, my hands find their way to the incision that brought my first born into my arms, 22 years ago.
I move my fingers first up and then down, then left to right and right to left, and finally clockwise and counter clockwise in the way I was shown, hands over mine, over the incision, releasing the adhesions formed inside the body.
Adhesions:
A year earlier it was Deb who again helped release a different kind of holding in the womb–the pain of two miscarriages in my late twenties, two abortions at 16, sexual trauma, heartbreak, childhood terror, pervasive fear.
As I lay on her table, under a soft blanket, with the November sun lighting the room, Deb asked:
Are you ready to let it go?
And tears, held so long inside, streamed down my face.
November:
Both my boys were conceived in this month–my first son just two weeks after Deb placed her hands on my womb.
November also holds the anniversary of the birth and death of my beloved grandfather–11/17/19-11/17/91.
I’ve felt my Poppop’s warm and effervescent presence this week, and he lives on in my sky-eyed youngest. And in recent years he arrives in the warm and loving presence of a new friend, whose company, “coincidentally,” I’ll share this weekend, as she leads a retreat at Kripalu Center for Yoga & Health, entitled Writing down the Light.
It was decades ago that I began writing down into the deep, dark cavernous loss, but it is only in the last handful of years that I zeroed in on the tragedy that irrevocably rocked my world at 14.
Lila, my paternal grandmother, died two decades before my grandfather, in an accident on a bridge that crushed everything that stood at the center of my life.
My father’s tears are what I recall from that July afternoon when we met on the tarmac where I had been sipping a McDonald’s shake while waiting for his plane to taxi without knowing why he had come or that I’d be leaving. Vanilla.
We flew back in that small plane and arrived at her house–filled with family–but forever vacant to me.
Two summers ago, on the anniversary of the accident, I returned to that airport, and found my hands trembling so badly, as I approached, and my  mind so frantic, that I could have easily crashed the car.
I lost more than my grandmother and my aunties to the Mac Truck. I lost the Matriarchy under whose wings I had been protected and nourished and promised a future.
I lost something else too. I gave it up actually. Spit it out.
My belief in God.
And tears.
I refused to ever cry again, and met that resolve, until a handful of years later, when I received the news that the house would be sold, and then I balled like a baby on my boyfriend’s lap on my last day in my grandmother’s kitchen.
Lila was the age I am now in our last year together, and I am finally writing down the light that meets me here in the last days before becoming Crone–a year in which the wise blood remains inside, offered not to the earth as it has been for 40 years, but to the heavens ever more until I, like her, like each of us, leave this world.
This morning I woke in a spontaneous meditation at the crown. It unfolded, like a warm woolen shawl, once tight with abandonment, now open and unfurling toward the sky.
Lately, I find myself able to weep, easily–at desires once held, and desires still aching to unfold–and at the way the snow releases from an iron sky.

 

November, like me

A November day, like today, with its deep frost–prisms of light illuminating the cold–is a lot like me as I age, or who I aspire to be, say by 60 or 80–all the fruit, the desire, the harmony fallen away–so that what remains–the stone, the empty branch, the fading blade of grass–is immersed in this stark and exquisite offering–of clarity.

I could have danced all night…

10 years ago, after my youngest entered school full-time, I took a major detour in my exploration of new career possibilities.

Rather than enroll in a Masters Program in Organization and Development in New Hampshire, or in a vigorous life-coaching mentorship out of Colorado, and in lieu of resentfully renewing my lapsed teaching license in Vermont, I showed up at a place called Kripalu in the Berkshires of Massachusetts–to dance.

130 accredited hours later, I was a newly minted Let Your Yoga Dance instructor, something I could barely admit to friends when they asked about my unusual time away from home and family.

That single detour set me on a course of detours, so that ten years later, I’m still winging it, flying and fumbling my way forward “from the inside out” as I’ve grown fond of saying.

During this decade of detours, I earned my 200 hour yoga teaching certification, crafted an online writing journey through the chakras, and frequently returned to the Kripalu Center for Yoga and Health, where I assist leading presenters.

Now’s a good time to admit that all these detours were an attempt to avoid (and covertly bolster) what was truly calling me–a desire to write–which led to a companion desire–to create as much space around the writing as possible–apart from mothering/partnering/homemaking and earning some semblance of an income. Quite a dance!

But as feared, the more I immersed in writing, the less I desired anything else, until this moment when all my desires have whittled down to one: to finish the book that I began in 2012 while assisting a non-profit that took me to Chile and Japan and brings me annually to the Commission on the Status of Women at the United Nationsopportunities which I’ve let wither on the vine of an increasingly singular focus.

What has also whittled down, in parallel form, is my income.

While I’m proud of the fact that I’ve been able to increasingly earn in creative and life-giving ways; this is often accompanied by angst around rising household expenses and the fear of not earning/being/doing “enough.”

And yet, after much inner struggle, I came into a place of surrender this summer, softening into my deepening commitment to the book as if it were a daughter, and into the limited income that caring for her affords me.

Out of this clarity came the decision to simplify my income–to two parallel offerings a season–one in writing and one in dance–two wings to support my own journey and that of others.

Ironically, my hard-earned clarity was met by my husband’s who shared that he was ready for me to make more money, three times as much in fact.

We laughed at the synchronicity.

After the laughter, was the nitty-gritty. I zeroed in on the necessity of retiring one role (Motherhood) before landing the next; and so we sat down with the budget and made it work with a commitment to adhering to it more diligently; because after all hadn’t we managed to make ends meet in much leaner times when the kids were little and he was a new teacher.

With this commitment and clarity was met with Autumn’s back-to-school energy, I renewed by daily work on the book, and as a result, I experienced a growing sense of self-trust and possibility, both of which had waned as a result of inner conflict.

Meanwhile, I set to filling my fall sessions, which fortunately are the easiest to fill at this time of year.

After some initial sluggishness, my online writing journey was fully enrolled; while enrollment in the dancing journey stalled; and remained stalled, even as the starting date grew closer and closer; and my anxiety grew larger and larger.

Over the past decade, the dance has become an integral part of my own health, and my commitment and connection to community, not to mention a creative outlet for that part of me who is teacher, crafting  music, movement and chakras in a conscious flow.

But faced with an unsustainable enrollment at a time when sustainability was key, I had to make a choice.

Suddenly, the point of the audio book that I ordered over the summer came into sharper focus. In Let Your Life Speak, author Parker Palmer introduces a form of guidance that reveals itself: When way closes.

Was way closing on dance for me? After ten years? Could I let it? Couldn’t I try harder? Certainly I could bring the dance to one of the surrounding towns who had long asked for me to do the same…

I fretted. I gave one last effort. I meditated.

This morning I refunded the enrollments of a small handful of students who were ready to begin the dance this week.

In doing so, I felt a surprising sense of relief and also a predictable measure of unfolding grief, tinged with old essences of embarrassment and shame.

In the meantime, I’ve crunched the numbers, only to discover that even the simplest of jobs will meet what I’ve earned nourishing consciousness with music and movement and writing.

The absurdity of my past efforts on this account is hard to bear in the black and white of a spreadsheet. But not in the light of the matching absurdity of devoting so much time to a book that no one is waiting to read–at least no one with a check to match the years of effort; not to mention the absurdity of laying down so much promise–professional and financial–to surrender my body and life–as home–to two splendid human beings–twenty-three years ago and counting.

What I realize only now, as I write, is that this letting go brings me back to the yogic principle that guided me as I first set out to lead the dance a decade ago: Ishvara Pranidhana.

So overcome was I with self-doubt and recrimination about my capacity to lead, not to mention the insanity of my detour from serious career pursuits, that each night, before the students arrived, I was forced to bow my head on my mat–in full surrender–Ishvara Pranidhana–offering up my failures and successes.

This same surrender is required now.

I could have danced all night, yes, but instead, I’ll return to the classifieds, seeking a fit for an increasingly un-fittable woman who is ready to accept the ease of income, in devotion to the calling that she cannot refuse.

 

Minister to me


To borrow an expression from my religious friends–

This tune “ministered to me” this morning.

Without needing to know why.

And it was a sweet surprise.

I’d never heard this song before.

It was the first one to play when I unplugged from the news and asked Alexa to stream me some Krishna Das.

I  asked her to play it again and again.

It opens with a freaky kind of sound, throat singers, I suppose.
An intuitive once told me that I had been one. Famous.
I suppose I was a guy then too.

I was attached to Krishna Das once.
Literally.
For a few moments when I was assisting Robert Thurman at Kripalu.

Neither of them noticed that this petite silver-haired woman with a head set in her hands was wired to their long embrace and conversation.

Finally, I tucked the receiver under Bob’s elbow and slipped away to the floor while these two socked feet giants communed.

I’m leaving.

I wake with a start and a stirring. A tug. A pull.

“I have to go to the ocean,” I tell my husband.

Our bank account disagrees; so I tell it that I will drive there and back in a single day, departing absurdly early and returning late, without the need for an overnight stay.

But a week passes, and still I haven’t recovered enough from that tenacious August respiratory virus to fund the energy needed for this kind of day trip; which is unfair because it is this very virus that no doubt produced this untimely insistence on the ocean. It is already September, the air is cooling, and school has begun.

Rumi’s words echo even as my commitment wanes:

What matters is how quickly you do what your soul directs.

 When a week passes and a string of summer-like days return, I go to the pond–a place where I am stirred, again and again, by beauty and light, but like a toddler, denied a specific spoon, I am unsatisfied.

“I must stay overnight,” I say, and with that, I renew my commitment, and add to it–boldness and creativity, while my efforts are met, without success.

I go to bed on Monday, muddled, and wake the same on Tuesday, and decide to find clarity, inside:

I get on my mat.
I write in my journal.
I take my supplements.
I tend the garden.
I shower outside.
I do what needs doing for work.

All the while, I do something else, slowly, nonchalantly, covertly, just in case, little by little—setting aside, at first, some underwear, and then a bra; and then an outfit or two; a toiletry kit; some beach things; waters and snacks, and finally a meal for lunch and then dinner.

At 11:00 am, I leave a note for my family on the kitchen table:

Heading east.
Be back tonight or tomorrow.
Will message.

Just then, an email comes through–a single night in an Airbnb at a very friendly rate. I update my note to my family.

It is well into the afternoon when I arrive up the coast of Maine, not all ideal, and I have to resist chiding myself so that I can receive what daylight remains–to sit and read and take in the smell of the sea and the sounds of waves, and to walk in the surf, and finally to float and then to submerge myself fully in Her embrace.

Afterward, I rack up a $9 check at an upscale restaurant–a glass of Portuguese wine and a mini lobster roll with fries—Yay, Maine Happy Hour!—and when I arrive back at my room, I receive another email–an unexpected payment from a client—for the exact amount of my stay.

Alas, the angsty restlessness I felt in needing to come, and in deciding to come, and even in the coming and the arriving, continues, even the next morning as I sip coffee at my favorite cafe, and even as I walk along the stunning cliffs at the lighthouse, and even as I sit in the sand and build a sand castle like I did as a child; so that it is a continuous practice, this being with me, with awareness and compassion:

“Of course, you’re restless,” I say. “These are shifting times. Not just summer’s end, and your mother’s anniversary, and a month of coughing, but this heartbreak of an administration, and the fires and floods and shootings, and then, of course–this leaving of motherhood, not to mention hot flashes and a road trip without air condition.”

Exactly 24 hours after I arrive in Maine, I begin driving south, and then west, and three hours later, I cross the Connecticut River from New Hampshire to Vermont, and then turn off the highway to stop at the fish market to soften the separation of the sea and me.

Mothers do, you know.
They leave.
They drop their kids off at daycare or at school and never come back.

I’m leaving.
I’m leaving.
I’m leaving.

These words appeared like a mantra after I’d written the note to my family, ominously hinting at a larger leaving, and continuing, even after I arrived back home.

I’m leaving, I’m leaving, I’m leaving.

I half-thought I might not make it to Maine or home again. That I’d die on the road like my grandmother did just a year older than me. I remind myself, firmly, that I’d like to transform without such drama as she (or my mother) enacted.

And still, my spirit is called into the wild, and as I lean in to listen, I hold back, for fear of going too far.

~

(Related post: Cleavage.)

Rest, for the world

If I was sick, say with the flu or maybe cancer, I would lie here, on the couch, like I did for a good long while this afternoon, and do nothing, except listen–to the sound of the breeze through the trees–like I once did for an entire summer of afternoons–the summer my mother lay dying, 300 miles away, my belly full with child, searching for my mother’s face in the leaves, for any sign of her wellbeing, and later, his mouth, on my breast–and instead of getting up and pushing through this hangover of family– an August wedding–too many hellos & goodbyes–in too short a time–instead of chasing away this deep fatigue, this ache in my bones, with food or caffeine or distraction, or even this here–these words I’m expressing–I would remain effortless, without choice, with only the rise and fall of my breath, and the sound of the leaves in the breeze, and my life, my living, and maybe even the world, would be better for it.