In two weeks I will be having a medical procedure to try to kill the seven fibroids that have taken up residence inside my uterus. The doctor said they have probably been with me for thirty years, and that even if they grow back after the embolization, they won't have enough time to become huge again because menopause is just around the corner. Well then... Madame Silver, vous n'êtes plus toute jeune.
My fiftieth birthday is around the corner too. I will be turning 49 in November, and I feel the weight of this pressing down on me. Fifty feels monumental. There is no doubt that I have lived half of my life, that the rest is a downhill slide into ... into what? Oblivion? Not really. I don't even know what to call it. Into something other than what I have always known. Into the unknown.
Ten years ago, when I was close to turning forty, I said that I didn't mind getting older because there is some freedom in that. We know ourselves better as we age, we are more confident, less bound by fears. These are wonderful things. I certainly don't want to go back to the way I was during my twenties. I was working so hard on healing the wounds of childhood trauma. These were tough years. My thirties were devoted to developing my skills as a therapist and to raising my children. My creative voice emerged during these years, and the fears started to part. Slowly, at first, but steadily, they left. I learned to speak, even as my voice trembled. I learned to share my thoughts and my opinions and the deeper parts of myself, with a few select people, with my writer's group. These were years of tremendous growth for me, and I am grateful to all the strong, intelligent women who helped me navigate these waters. We laughed together and cried together and held each other's hands. We ate buffalo wings together and drank margaritas and we analyzed each other's dreams. We shared our heartbreaks and our regrets and the missed opportunities that haunted us. Growth is not always easy. In fact, it's never easy. Love, tenderness, compassion, understanding, and an empathetic ear make the process feel safer. We emerge stronger and more sure of who we are.
My forties were spent focusing on healing from the suicide of my son, on learning to live with that enormous hole in my heart. My autoimmune disease also unfolded during these years, which is really no surprise, given the immense traumas I have survived. My voice continued to become stronger through these years. My life changed drastically, and I now live in one of the most aesthetically beautiful countries in the world. I am facing fifty from a great vantage point, but it feels as is I am staring a wild beast in the eye. He is powerful. He poses so many questions and hurls things at me about how fast time is going, about how I am no longer young, about all the things that I have yet to lose before the end comes. I have never really been afraid of change. I have drastically, intentionally changed my life a couple of times, but those were changes over which I had some control. This process of growing older feels like one that will strip me of my power. It feels synonymous with loss. I am certainly no stranger to loss. That is a landscape I know so very well, a dark, familiar terrain. Aging forces us to come to grips with losses. The longer we live, the more people we lose; the more abilities we lose; the more independence we lose.
I also already know what it is like to have things happen to and in the body. Fibroids are parasites. They feed on our blood and oxygen, and they grow. And grow. They can make us anemic and weak and tired all the time. They can make us bleed for weeks on end. They make us feel like our bodies are no longer our own. The same is true with an autoimmune disease. We do our best to manage the illness, but there are inevitable flare-ups, which knock us down. Hard.
And so I am staring this beast in the eye, knowing that he is only going to get more powerful with each year that passes. I am left thinking about the most essential question anyone has ever posed: "What is it that you want to do with your one wild and precious life?" Thank you, Mary Oliver.
My one wild and precious life... There are so many things. The list is long. The first thing that comes to mind is that I want to make art. I want to awaken in the morning just as the sun comes up, my head filled with visions and creative projects that are yearning to be made real. I want to tell stories with my camera, with my assemblages, with words. I want to work on projects to the point that my hands are achy and sore, fingers blistered, eyes foggy and tired, but a contented smile spreads across my face as I look back on the day's work. I want to let the luscious, juicy words spill across page after page in my favorite Georgia font, to let poetry drip from my lips and flow out from my fingertips. I want to see the world through a wide-open lens, where the focus is only on the most important things, and the rest of the scene is wonderfully blurred. I want to dance with wonder, letting him lead. Heart and eyes open, a willing partner, I will follow as he gently nudges me in one direction and then another. I want to swim at night in the dark, warm, silky waters. Naked. I want to feel the water gliding across my skin. Stars reflected on the surface of the water weave themselves into the strands of my hair. I want to feel open and connected to others, to animals and plants, to the rocks and the sea. I want to feel the seeds of eternity that rest in me, to know that they have sprouted and will continue to live long after I am gone. I want to make peace with my body and accept it as it changes. I will try to keep it as healthy and fit as possible, but I know that it will change. I want to see my body as something sacred, as a friend, a companion on this journey. I want to take care of it, so that it can continue to house in relative comfort and beauty for as long as is possible. I want to celebrate it, to revel in the pleasures that it gives me. Much of my early adult life was spent being disconnected from my body because it was the site of the traumas of my youth. It has taken many years, but I have reclaimed this sacred ground as my own. I want to continue to allow it to bring me pleasure, to appreciate all that my senses have to offer.
Turning fifty will not prevent me from achieving any of these desires. Growing older will not strip me of my ability to seek these things out or to create them for myself. that is where I need to keep my focus. And so, as I prepare for this medical procedure, I need to remain focused on the fact that all the things I desire in this world are within my sphere of control. The rest is simply a distraction from what is essential to me.
Wild and precious... yes, indeed.
Until next time...