A lot can happen in twenty years.
When I was fifteen and not even dreaming about computers and iPhones, my most vivid memory was an awkwardness in every step and feeling fat in a sea of Twiggies. My greatest concern was not in fully grasping chemistry’s periodic table; rather, what if the young man I was interested in didn’t know I existed? I never saw my beloved Beatles in concert, but soon worked at a radio station where I met just about everyone else. Growing up with the rich and famous meant entertainers usually failed to impress beyond the initial aura that a certain level of success engenders. And rather than dragging me into a decadent lifestyle, these frivolous distractions simply provided a balm to assuage the unsettling atmosphere of a crumbling home life.
At thirty-five, I had moved far from suburban Southern California to the woods and waters of Maine. Mother to two young children and enmeshed in a doomed marriage to their father, I learned how to live simply, in harmony with the land and close to nature’s bones. Possessing a mane of long wavy auburn hair, I was distressed by provincial attitudes and sudden acne flareups. Change was impending, however – of a magnitude I could never have predicted. My very soul was being uprooted from the concrete and asphalt of the city and transplanted into its natural environs, though I had no point of reference to mark the passing of a life I was leaving behind. A longtime business orientation began shifting with my awakening spirit as a fundamentalist background cracked wide open to reveal a unified view of the cosmos. I had no frame of reference for anything that was transpiring, and whiled away innumerable days with my nose buried in Louise Hay’s You Can Heal Your Life, mumbling affirmations in the attempt to keep inner demons at bay long enough to step outside the comfort of my familiar.
At fifty-five I launched into menopause. Both daughters were in college, and the cold of the northeast had long affected my health. Having peered into the empty nest to discover a dearth of feathers, I returned to finish my BA at Vermont College while my youngest was still a freshman. After a decade of concurrently conducting a busy consulting practice, hosting a radio show and writing columns for two statewide papers, I did an about-face and moved far across the country to Hawaii Island. Now I was in a different and stronger marriage, but still reeling from years of busy-ness. My girls were with us no longer, so the questions cropped up, fast and furious: Who was I, now or ever? How on earth was I to identify myself, bereft of a career and a recognizable face? What was I going to do with all this free time, miles from any university or economic base that could conceivably support my profession? Meanwhile, my husband had established a career and was happily working. It was up to me now to discover what lay in the silence, what emerged from that place, and then to integrate it into my new life, such as it had become.
Post Script: A dear friend is twenty years my senior. I watch her, hawk-like, as she slowly ambles through her days. I observe what she eats, how she moves; I listen to what she says. I notice her struggle to remember first and last names of people important to her. I feel saddened as her friends die off, one by one. Meanwhile I hike the valleys, swim in the ocean, ride my bicycle. I pause to listen to the quiet, the birdsong, the chuffing of dogs lying in the hot sun. My path unfolds before me like the yellow brick road to Oz. And what I know for certain is that I realize less and less about the miraculous underpinnings of the universe. I used to be confident in answers, but am now refreshing the questions. I don’t know what I’m going to do when I grow up, but for now, I am happy just to be. And strangely, it seems enough.