I passed a young woman in the market this afternoon.
Her skin was so evenly colored. Her muscles so toned.
I wanted to stop her and say:
“Your skin is so evenly colored and your muscles so toned!”
But she appeared to be in a rush.
“She’s decades younger than you,” my husband said, surely relieved that I shared my thoughts with him and not her, and thinking I needed encouragement.
But I wasn’t mourning my youth. In fact, there’s a very good chance that I am kinder to this skin that’s grown mottled and to this musculature that’s grown soft than this beauty is to perfection.
Someday (soon) the gentleness of age and the blush of youth will meet each other inside young women, like those waves that approach each other from opposite directions as they soften toward the shore.
We’ll look on the Aged then like one does a favorite book or sweater, more Beloved because it’s worn; and so Known, we will Love into ourselves–in all ways and shapes, infirmities and strengths and age–even more.
I arrived late on the morning of Halloween, 1972, and as I crossed the small courtyard between the primary building and the one in which the 5th grade was housed, I passed a classmate with the attendance slip in hand.
“I’m here!” I said, but he looked at me blankly.
“Who are you?” he asked.
And I remember my surprise, and how unsettled I felt–that I could feel so much myself on the inside, yet be so unrecognizable on the outside.
Most of the time, with adults, it’s the opposite–masked in normalcy, while inside something riotous or hopeless or desperate is going on, or even over-joyed and delighted, though those conditions are more easily rendered into places of connection.
~Age 9. Gypsy. Curly-haired, black wig. Virginia Court Elementary, Aurora, Colorado. (I think it snowed that year for Trick or Treat.)
~ “At Samhain (Halloween), we call the Goddess the Crone. The Crone is the Old One, the aspect of the Goddess that teaches us wisdom, that helps us let go when we need to change and grow.”
I’ve read those words from Starhawk’s, Circle Round to my children, myself, since becoming a mother, two decades ago; and now that Cronehood is on my horizon–23 days–this reading lands differently. Personally. With greater consequence. Understanding. Gravity. Truth.
~ I have an abiding affection for Halloween. Which confuses me. I don’t much like to dress up; and when I do, I prefer to be more of myself than in disguise.
It may be that I lost the ability to play.
It may be that the fear of masks is a companion of my work with memoir.
So what is it then that makes Halloween bubble up inside?
The children I suppose.
The companionship of their parents.
Especially the ones who arrive in costume!
I admire the theatrical families. The fantasy dwellers. The laughter. The delight. I regret my children were born to someone who spends so much time with non-fiction and so little time in silliness.
I suppose my affection for Halloween may be residue from childhood. The simplicity. Just a pumpkin, a costume & a bag. The generosity of neighbors & strangers. No lavish meals. No hours upon hours of shopping & wrapping. No house guests for which to imperfectly prepare. No way to be–but fast & gracious. I was good at both.
My mother served lunch fair on Halloween–tuna sandwiches & soup. The absence of formality (and my father) said: “Be at ease. Be quick. I understand your enthusiasm.”
Even now, it gets the better of me. In overdrive, I shift from the work of the day to making popcorn at the stove. My mother’s recipe. My grandmother’s bowl. My father’s favorite snack. When I was a kid, we gave out store bought candy because anything homemade was suspect–as cheap, as weird, as dangerous.
But not so the costumes.
My mother never let me buy a single one.
I was Princess, Gypsy, Hobo, Doctor.
I am still.
The older I get, the more I just want to be me.
I’ve worked so hard to find her.
For a moment, the shopping mall is magical–the twinkling lights, the soft sweaters, the peppermint cappuccinos.
This is the Christmas of soap operas–of shiny new outfits and fancy gatherings. It is my stepmother’s annual black tie event–carols on the baby grand, champagne in the crystal, salmon on the silver.
There’s a part of me that still craves this Christmas, like an old recipe insisting on its place. But there is another Christmas that woos me too–the quiet Christmas of fresh evergreens and fire places and simple delights.
This Christmas requires homemade gifts and handwritten cards; mornings in the kitchen, afternoons at the work bench, evenings on the sewing machine–joyfully rendering no matter what the hour–while the sweet sound of string music plays in the background.
And then, there is my “real” Christmas–the one fraught with tension between presence and presents, commerce and contentment, decorations and deities.
It’s no wonder that I short-circuit.
What is it that I can distill from these competing visions?
What is it that I truly appreciate about this season of light?
It is this ritual that I love…
preparation |ˌprepəˈrā sh ən| noun ORIGIN late Middle English; via Old French from Latin praeparatio(n-), from praeparare ‘make ready before’
It’s hard to align department stores and cocktails parties and frantic hours of wrapping with a sense of the sacred; but I can understand the impulse. We are gathering. We are making sure we have enough. We are afraid we don’t.