It rained so hard today that the newly leafed younger trees are bent with the weight of all the water. The ground has soaked most of it up and there is still dripping as water collects on the slick magnolia leaves and slides to the ground, heavy and dense. I wonder if this strange past winter will give it more blooms the way it has given everything else. What a wonder that would be, to see that giant of a tree adorned with plate-sized blossoms of creamy white and what a wonder that scent would be as well. Lemon and something green. Close your eyes and bury your face in a blossom, come up with pollen on your nose, heaven inside of it.
And everything is so green. So deeply and unmistakably green. Wet and verdant, everything, everything.
I am feeling so strange these days. As if I am shedding a skin like a snake. I look at my own body and I do not recognize it, the way age is softening the skin and folding it into ripples, patterns of surely my own making but when? How? I have given up being amazed and am now only resigned and confused.
And it's not just my skin or the lay of the flesh underneath it, above the bones of my face, my legs, my arms, my belly, my back. It is my mind, too, which seems to reach here and there with lightening wanting, with desperate attacks of self-doubt, of peeling itself bare of any nurturing protection. I pick at my own soul like a child intent on picking a scab just for the primal interest in watching the dots of blood come up again, released from their hiding places, lying in wait to be allowed to rise to the air to begin the clotting, the scabbing process all over again.
Really? There is blood in me? And there is this? And this? And this as well?
It's not entirely painful, this strange shedding and wanting and doubt. Uncomfortable, yes, but not so painful. Like, I suppose, they say labor should be but really is not. No, now that is pain. This is more like, well, what I imagine it must feel like for that snake to shed. Itchy and bothersome. And confusing, yes. Confusing.
I suppose it is all part of this constant reborning we humans do. Just as we get used to being one age, another overtakes us. Just as we begin to feel comfortable in one stage, one skin, we progress to another. Sometimes swiftly, as again, when a baby is born and we become a mother instead of a girl or woman, sometimes slowly, like this, when the reborning is based on so many things, not just one. Not just one violent push and gush but almost unnoticeable changes which come not only from ourselves, but from others.
I am made grandmother with all of the cultural baggage and mythology that fairy tales inform me of. Who am I in all of that? What do I retain of the girl I was so many years ago whose bones I still share, though they are surely less strong and flexible now? Is she still inside of me? Or the young mother I was? What about her? I am certain she is there. She tells me how to lift and hoist the sweetest weight of a baby onto my hip, how to cradle a small body as I feed that baby. She gives me the rhymes to remember to sing to him, to make him laugh, the little spider song, the pat-a-cake patter, the this-little-piggy game and she tells me to bite those toes, to kiss that nose, to do anything for a smile from this not-a-son-but-a-grandson of mine.
Yes. That new mother is inside of me, even as I am a grandmother now.
My youngest is about to turn twenty-one and there is hard and fast symbolism there, too. I have, in a sense, done my job here on earth. I made more of me, I blended genes and gave birth and raised those babies to adulthood, every one. In a very primitive sense, and possibly the most important, that job is done. And if none of my children are children anymore, what does that make me? Surely their mother, still, of course, but not the same kind of mother. Not the one I still know lives in me along with the all the ages I have ever lived.
I am still a wife but not the same sort of wife I was twenty-five years ago when I stood up next to that man and said, "I do, I will, oh yes, I will." I am not even married to the same man! He was a boy yet then, I see it now, although I didn't then. Not exactly wild but living wildly in that body of his, ready to fling all of his considerable strength and energies at whatever he saw as needing to be done to provide for me and the children. He, like me, is tireder now and less apt to squander energy where energy does not need to be squandered. We have learned how to move smarter, saving what energy we have because we have so much less. We do not have less love, I think. No. As much as ever, more, because we have gone through so much together but it is a different kind of love. A more tolerant one, a more patient one, not one based on merely lust and a promise of something we had no idea about. We do not even look the same, he or I, and that changes everything too and we might as well admit it. I feel shameful, sometimes, under his gaze and wonder how a man who fell in love with such a (I now realize) beautiful woman can stay in love with this older, blurred version whose flesh, as I said, falls in such strange and baffling ways. And here we are, still hand-in-hand but I know the things we promised to face together on that beautiful sunny October day so many years ago are rising quickly on the horizon. How many more days or weeks or years of good health, of yes, aching bones and joints and failing eyes and ears but still sound at the core of us, do we have left? How we will adapt to whatever changes must be made? How will we handle it? Hopefully with grace and good humor and intelligence but will we?
You know that saying? Aging is not for wimps?
Well. It is not.
It is as hard as any other stage in life and maybe harder because the rewards become less and less fun. The rewards are more like hoping for the status quo than for attaining great dreams or achieving new things. Another good year of health and the children all being well and a good garden and a newly found miracle love of a grandchild seems to me to be the absolute most anyone could ask for now. Which is not inconsiderable. And is it just me or does every reward seem to come with its own shadow of knowledge hovering over it? Knowledge born of experience. Knowledge born of seeing those before us go through such pain and then death, despite the so-called joys of old age- the supposed wisdom, the grandchildren, the satisfaction of knowing that jobs have been done and well, of seeing the children reach for their own dreams.
I am feeling all of this and I am feeling that itch of this skin not fitting. I am feeling the twitch of the nine-year old in me, her yearning and her pain, her closing down just as life should have been opening up. I am feeling the bliss of the babies at the breast of the new mother and I am feeling the weariness of the mother of four with no time for herself, no sleep uninterrupted, no plan for the day unthwarted. I am feeling the woman who used to give herself to the dance, eyes closed, using her body to channel the music. I am feeling the girl who looked up at the night sky in wonderment, so many stars overhead that the vastness of the universe was made fact in that second. I am feeling the woman who held her friend as she died. I am feeling the woman who gave herself to the man and took him for her own. I am feeling every thing and every time and I am feeling ready to burst with it all and for what? So much going on in here and it's no wonder that I can barely stand to go to town or to talk to people with all of this inside of me, trying to find a seat, trying to get comfortable as more and more entities of myself and my life fill me up.
Perhaps this is what we die of- too much. There is just too damn much inside to fit in anything more. And yet. We are human. We still yearn and we still have dreams. We still want to travel and experience love and we still want to hold those babies and we still want to do whatever that secret unfilled dream is and how to push all the rest aside which wearies us just with all of the heavy fruit of the memories and manage to go on to new dreams, to new things, to new hopes, to new ways, to new choices, to new lives?
Can we? Do we dare even try?
Do we even have a choice?
Ah. Aging is not for wimps. Trust me. It is as uncomfortable and unfamiliar as any stage of life can be. Maybe more so and I can say this because I have lived through so many stages of life and I know. And right now, with the pattering-again rain falling, with the husband changing the oil of his car, with the dinner simmering on the stove, with the chickens happily still scratching in the wet dirt, with these words in front of me, I am not sure of my step or my balance in any of it.
All I know is that I am uncomfortable. I move my shoulders, I roll my neck, I put a hand to my hip to try and press away the pain. I write this and perhaps I am attempting to massage the new skin into being.
Who am I? asks the fifteen-year old. What does it all mean? asks the seventeen-year old.
They are in there still, those girls. They are still asking.
I still haven't got an answer for them nor do I have one for this almost fifty-six year old.
I am just trying to roll with it, to let the skin bunch up and let me roll out of it, new again, even old.
The earth is old but it grows new again each spring, turning to its same old ways of rebirth and growth, flowering and fruiting. The old tree dies, the young tree springs up in the sunlight the old one had blocked in its living.
I am (I whisper), I am (I hesitate), I am (I dare to say)...alive now.
And that means being uncomfortable. That means wondering and worrying. That means reaching and growing. That means fearing and going forth despite the fear.
That means...go turn on the lights. That means go check the dinner. That means listen to the rain, pay attention to the green, hold tight to the man, don't give up, don't quit thinking, don't quit feeling. That means remember that everything changes all of the time. Skin, luck, desire, needs, comforts, fears and joys too.
It all changes.
And stays the same.
Move over, says this new age. Make room. And there is a sigh and a resettling. There is a pause and another reborning.
We go on, even if we don't know where we're going because deep within us, we do, and we do not really care to get there yet and we know how little time we have to waste as the top of the hill comes in sight.
Still some ways to go. Stay strong. Here's my hand. Here's your hand. We all have our different age-strengths and we can help each other as we go.
I go to make muffins. I put flax seed and carrots in them for health, I put molasses and apples in them for sweetness. The rain is falling. It is coming on night but there is still much to do before sleep. Yes. I am changing but it's part of the whole. The skin becomes softer and the grandchild finds comfort in that.
I hold him as he sleeps and somehow, all of the ages of all of the lives I have lived quiet their voices. The twitching stops, the discomfort ends. For that moment, as he sleeps, his breath so sweet on my arm, his chest rising and falling, it all makes sense.
Who am I? What does it all mean?
Now go make muffins. Turn on the lights. Quit thinking so much. The rain is pouring again.
Night has fallen and I will sleep again. But I will wake tomorrow. Again and again and again.
And the skin will be as it will be, tight or comfortable, shed or un-.
As it will be.