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.

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the legacy of shame

solar-sisters tumblr

Shame. Disappointment. Burden.

With SpRiNg comes renewed attention to my insides as I recommit to what I want on the outside.

I’m curious about your relationship with disappointment.

In a New Year chakra clearing, I gained some clarity around the way I linger with and lay  disappointment onto the men in my home.

It was a painful visual, but it also leads me into compassion for the disappointment I must carry inside. My sense of my father’s almost constant disappointment in me. The weight of disappointment that my mother and grandmothers carried.

I’m no longer willing to be the legacy bearer for that burden.

This sweetly complements my intention to cultivate satisfaction–inside–with a moment to moment practice of saying “Yes,” to what ever arises–on my path, or in my psyche–as an invitation instead of a problem, as something I greet without abandoning, rejecting or shaming myself as “wrong.”

I suspect the practice will be a daily one for the rest of my days.

 

Love, Part IV: The 2018 GREAT SpRiNg LOVE TOUR.

Three days. Three states. Three traveling companions.

300 miles one way.

30+ relatives, ages 3 to 91 (plus 3 four-legged friends) in 2 dozen+ towns.

3 breweries. 2 pizza parlors. 1 steak sandwich shop. 1 Wawas. 2 best friends. Tons of traffic. Some snow. Lots of rain. Rare appearances of the sun. 6 to 8 foot swells.

A choppy ferry crossing. 2 cemeteries. 2 beaches. 2 public gardens. 1 open mic. 1 family yoga class. A handful of laser tag games. A sunset-walk around the lake.

Several car-ride karaokes. A handful of Turkish words, particularly the one for “junk food,” which despite countless repetition, I can’t remember, but definitely feel–in my belly.

2 recitations & one application of Frost’s, The Road Not Taken.

1 eventually successful attempt to locate the wooded 38-acre parcel on Long Neck Point that once belonged to my family and is almost unrecognizably (and thus, achingly) over-developed, but still bears the family name and looks out over the Indian River Bay which was my foundational experience of silence.

Love, Part III. Cancer of the Heart

Because I left so little space within my travel days, my heart came to me, after midnight, in a hotel room, just off the highway, through my dreams.

A beautiful half-moon curve–freshly carved, into my left breast—tender, swollen, reddened—but more than likely healing.

So many times I’ve been told that I didn’t love “right.”

(Haven’t we all!)

And yet, my heart hollers back:

ALL evidence to the contrary…!

Haven’t you loved the same man for 32 years.

Haven’t you raised 2 amazing sons with whom you share the same abiding love, mutual respect & fierce boundaries.

And what of the friendships that still flower to this day, those begun 40 (forty!) years ago, and what about those emerging & unfolding even now.

And what of the generations of students & companions—in the classroom, on the mat, on the page.

And what of your youth—POURED into the parenting gap left by trauma, narcissism & addiction–into the lives half-dozen+ younger siblings until, one by one, they too came of age.

YOU, Kelly KNOW how to LOVE!

“That’s right!” I respond, “I do!”

And love is not only proximity, my heart replies.

Sometimes love is leaving space.
Sometimes love is letting go.
Sometimes love is feeling YES and stamping NO.

‘Yes, I love you,’ and ‘No, you may not traipse across the terrain of my tender heart just because you are lost.’

Yes, ‘Your happiness is my happiness,’ and Yes, ‘Your heartache is my heartache,’ but ‘No, my heart cannot serve as the safe house for the projection of your unmet needs, your scarcities, fears, and grief.

Which is to say that I find myself in unfamiliar territory, no doubt in large part due to the passage from Mother to Menopause which arrives on the precipice of an Empty Nest, and returns my heart to its original and departing purpose— loving—me.

“But aren’t you afraid of going to hell?” I was once asked.

“How can I be afraid of something in which I do not believe?” I replied.

Which is to say that there is a mythology of love and abandonment to which I no longer wish to subscribe.

Love is never absent.

Love ABIDES.

Love, Part II. Portal

“The past is never dead. It’s not even past.”
Faulkner

Mile marker 69 and the portals open, sensing the proximity of the past.

One by one the memories come, like waves, leaving bits and pieces of story behind, like broken shells.

“No wonder everyone drinks here,” I say, at mile marker 63, feeling the undertow of my youth.

Who decides which memory comes?

Is there some alchemy of sky and scent and age?

If I took your hand in mine, would we jump?

Could we survive?

Step back Motherfuckers

(I Told, Part II)

Arriving in Paris was like arriving in a dream, like jumping into one of Bert’s paintings on the sidewalk outside the park, only Mary Poppins wasn’t holding my hand.

It occurs to me that I was living in London at the time, 1984, just after the IRA bombed Harrods at Christmas and just before the explosion at Heathrow Airport ahead of my flight back home to “The States.”

I knew I would love Paris, had imagined it forever, and even though I was arriving in February instead of May, with a few classmates instead of a lover, on a quick weekend instead of a vacation, I was determined to fall in love, even while the Yanks and the Brits were unanimous in insisting the French were rude.

My grandmother studied French at Douglass, dreamed of working at the United Nations, helped me with my homework translations of the Le Petite Prince, and spoke of the trips we would take abroad together, which due to her untimely death were never realized.

As a 20 year college student, my trip to Paris looked something like this—a steep walk with my backpack down the hill from the residence in Hampstead, a Tube ride with a transfer to Charing Cross Road, the train out of London to the White Cliffs of Dover, another steep walk down and a hill to the dock, an all-nighter on the ferry across the northern seas of the English Channel (the Chunnel had yet to exist), and finally another train from the North of France in Calais to Boulogne and from Boulogne to… PARIS!

I arrived in the early morning. It was cold, I hadn’t showered and I was traveling with women I barely knew (while I preferred the company of men for their simplicity), but I was in Paris, with francs in my pocket, having done the exchange of pounds before departing so eager was I to be at ease in this city which had long held so much promise for me.

Upon arrival, we crossed the street from Gare de Nord and my companions entered a bank, while I said that I’d take a little walk instead.

“Are you sure?” they asked.

“I’ll just walk around the block,” I assured them.

It was a dull, gray walk, without any romance at all, except in my mind, until an old man came out from a doorway and said, in a gruff voice, “Bonjour.”

“BONJOUR!” I replied.

So eager was I to practice my French with a real Parisian that I slowed my pace to his as he stepped in beside me, turning one corner, and then another together, when I wanted his company or not.

“Je parle seulement un petit peu de francais,” I explained, as he grew irritable about something I wasn’t quite understanding, something about money; and eager to part, I must have misunderstood or misspoken because before I turned away from him to join my companions, he reached out and grabbed my breast, which was covered by a puffy gray ski jacket that I’ve only just realized–I hate.

I’ve shared this Paris story throughout my life as comical testimony to amateur language skills and to my fervent devotion to this city. Baguettes. Cafe Au Lait. Eclairs. The Rodin. The Jeu de Paume. Le Seine. Vin Chaud. Shakespeare & Company.

“Zut Alors!” I screamed at the old man, retrieving the only expletive I knew in his language.

Now, I might say, “FUCK YOU!” but as a woman of 20, one is more accommodating than at 54, more of who we are “supposed to be” instead of who we are.

It must have been my right breast.

A month shy of 34 years later, I wake in the dark holding it.

I’ve had a dream, a nightmare really.

I am riding in the passenger seat as my husband drives us up Main Street. As we pass the vintage shop, I see a lawyer friend walking three large dogs (one of which isn’t hers.)  I smile when I notice that it is the dogs that are walking her.

I lower the window to holler hello, and when I do, one of the dogs lurches at me from the sidewalk—chomping my right breast.

(Even typing this makes me hold it again. Even editing makes me hold it. And now I recall the hours that the body worker spent circling that breast, asking me what was there, and all I could muster was outrage at her touch which remained silent inside like this memory had until now. )

Upon waking in the dark, the inexplicable sadness with which I went to sleep made sense.

“Sense,” is really important to me. I relied upon it as a child. Alcoholism. Affairs. Divorce. It’s how I digested the world around me. Viet Nam. Nuclear drills. Starving children. Sense is how I avoided being swallowed up by fear or grief or hopelessness.

When did I learn to let thoughts override feelings? My mind flashes over the years in Colorado, the way our father challenged us to stand in the deep snow in our nightgowns, barelegged.

I never lasted.

I so wanted to please him. To warrant his attention and praise.

Becoming less emotional was the route I chose. It turns out that this lent itself well to success Managing at restaurant at 18. Magna Cum Laude at 21. Classrooms. Non-profits. A family.

All along my body persisted, aching like it had in the snow.

Headaches began in my teens, rashes in my twenties, two miscarriages before 30.

I was 36 (and the mother of two) when my own mother died, and I suppose this is when I truly surrendered to the journey back to the feminine.

Baby steps.

Yoga. Bodywork. Women’s circles. Therapy. Singing. Dancing. Art.

Yesterday, two women flew up from my Mid-Atlantic roots to meet me, to interview me, to question me, to write notes on a yellow legal pad in pink ink. There will be no recordings, they said. We all agreed.

The night before I had put myself in a chat queue on the National Sexual Assault Hotline only to close the browser just as my turn came. (1-800-656-4673.)

Next I opened the page to our local crisis center and discovered that I could send an email. (advocates@womensfreedomcenter.net)

It’s easier for me to be vulnerable with my fingers than it is with my voice. It’s what led me to journaling at 18, and to publishing after my mother died.

The Women’s Freedom Center in Brattleboro emailed me back and suggested I put a call into an advocate the next day which I eventually worked myself up to do, just ahead of the interview. (802-254-6954.)

“I’m not in crisis,” I told the kind woman on the other end of the line. “It happened 3 years ago. Mild as far as the range of assault goes. I don’t have a career at stake. But I’m having these really intense feelings, and I can’t shake them.”

Facebook messaging was how I coaxed myself into first reporting the incident to the large organization 300 miles away. Fired up by the #meTOO movement and convicted in my response-ability (as a white, educated, middle-class woman with a platform), I spoke up on behalf of other women.

I wanted to dismiss what happened to me because I was embarrassed by it, ashamed that I had agreed to hug a man who then slid his hands across my ass. Appalled that at 50, I was still vulnerable to accommodating.

“Can you tell us exactly what happened that day?” the Human Resources Officer asked thirty-minutes into the interview. “We don’t want to trigger you, but we’d like to hear it in person.”

“I don’t mind talking about it,” I said. “It’s the reporting part that’s left me feeling oddly vulnerable.”

They nodded. I proceeded.

Was I standing?

Why do I remember standing?

I had spent an inordinate amount of time that morning dressing for this meeting, falling into the cliche, ie. I wanted to look professional, not like someone who wanted her ass rubbed by a stranger, but I also wanted to have an ass that said that someone might want to rub it. (In the end, I just dressed how I wanted to be dressed for the events after the meeting.)

We were all sitting at a long table in a hotel conference room. Of course, I wasn’t standing.

Was I performing?
Why do I feel like I was performing on a stage?

How is it that is it already feels like a dream? It was only 24 hours ago.

As I relayed the incident, time slowed, and I was surprised to find my eyes filling with tears.

“This isn’t a big deal,” I told myself.

My self wouldn’t listen.

When did my emotions get the upper hand on my mind?

Menopause and #45 have definitely played a part in changing me.

I hadn’t thought much about the ass-assaulting incident until his campaign… the video… the debate stalking… Jessica Leeds and more than a dozen other women’s stories of assault.

I should have been pleased that this organization responded so swiftly to my report rather than dismiss it. In fact, they dispatched two administrators on a plane in my direction the very next week.

I wanted to say, NO Thank you, it was enough to do the telling once, but I told myself that this wasn’t fair to other women.

My body had something else to say about my courage: headaches, dizziness, swollen eyes.

I’d met with my therapist the previous week. She immediately noticed my eyes. She sent me a note after our appointment:

“These processes of going public with violating men ask you to be so reasonable and reasoned. Where do the anger and vigorous pushback go? Is it expressed in a safe place for you? Is it getting stuck in the windows of your soul, around your eyes? Such dilemmas–wanting to be of service to move consciousness along but… where does our vigor go? …STOP to the violators or stopped up in us?”

Just before the interview, I began to lose my voice; while after the hour-long session was complete, I felt completely relieved; but then noticed that I was wheezing.

I’m still wheezing today, unable to take a deep breath.

I attended two events after the interview, relieved at the distraction, except in those moments when I stepped into the silence of a restroom, and I felt a great sadness sweep over me.

On the drive home, up Main Street, past the vintage store, I asked my husband, “Why am I feeling so sad?”

This is what woke me at 3:30 this morning, to a dog biting my breast; and this is what brought me to the kitchen table to write about the City of Lights on this dirt road in the woods of the Green Mountains of Vermont on this rainy winter day.

I never knew that I felt sad about the old Frenchman who grabbed my breast when I was 20. I didn’t know that I felt sad about the man who dragged his hands across my 50-year-old yoga butt.

It would be easy to continue grieving today with all this water, threatening floods, but I feel completely sober.

What I can see clearly now, is that even though I didn’t let these assaults define or disempower me, they lived on inside.

They said: Whether you are 20 or 50, you are ours to grab.

They said: You do not possess the dignity of bodily sovereignty.

They said: Your humanity is less than ours.

Until I felt the depth of that injustice–inside my body–I couldn’t claim what needed claiming:

STEP BACK MOTHERFUCKERS!

~

(Click here for I Told, Part I.)

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.