WHAT I REMEMBER IS JAYNE. Jayne Mansfield, that is—the bursting at the seams, large bosomed, blonde bombshell and sexpot of the 60’s. The Hollywood star with the heart shaped pool in her backyard lived a large life in my mind. I wanted to be her. I was nine or ten playing house in my bedroom—as Jayne Mansfield, of course, stepping into the cool darkness of my closet to make out with an imaginary, muscle ripped Mickey Hargitay, while my girlfriends, all the while sighing and moaning, languished on my bed waiting for me to come to my senses and come out of the closet.
Then one day she was beheaded. I was devastated. Riding in the front seat of her car, slamming into and under the backside of a semi-truck, and…off went her head—I imagine right into the back seat! Just like that.
I imagine that she believed she still had a lot more making out with Mickey left to do, but as you know in all things, they end. Time runs out, and all you’ve ever done is all you’re ever going to do. And besides all that, I had already grown tired of making out with Mickey and was feeling the intensity of my puberty bearing down on me in the crush of feelings I had towards the boy down the street.
So much innocence left behind as the crush of life began to have its way with me. I almost succumbed to it more times than I care to say. Lucky for me, I made it this far into my sixties. Surprised to be here now, I was sure I would die before I was fifty. My entire adult life was white hot with extreme busyness and caretaking, and then total collapse—all of which I believed to be a badge of honor I wore proudly.
While at lunch the other day, my friend, Mystic Meena (whose odometer is getting ready to roll over to seventy), happened to remark on a sixty-seven year old actor that had passed away recently. Meena related how television pundits had observed after his passing that at least he had lived a long, full life—to which my friend exclaimed, “Bullshit!” When I was thirty, sixty-seven was definitely old—and death not so unexpected—that is, of course, unless you are sixty-seven. Unless you are ready for it, the pronouncement of death always comes as a surprise at any age. I don’t feel done yet.
Here I am, and the sun is beginning to dip in the sky. There isn’t a whole life left in front of me as I have a series of “holy shit” realizations that I’ve got to begin now if I want to find and use my real voice. My dreams are still the same. It’s just that I have a little less physical energy to realize them with. Maybe the point of the body sliding past the apex of youth is this: it compels you towards your realness. I don’t know for certain. It’s just a hunch I have.
Now that the leaves are beginning to turn into blazing yellows and crimson reds and oranges, into their most flagrant and final stand for beauty, I am wondering how I didn’t see there could be so much splendor in moving towards that inevitable final breath of falling from the tree. What a metaphor to our lives—the grace-filled allowing, the gentle welcoming of age, the coming home to ourselves, finally. Perhaps, the leaning into our wisdom years, of spreading our brightly colored canopy over the lives of those coming up after us as way-showers is what really matters. Personally, I don’t want to waste it, not a single drop, not a single brilliant colored leaf of it between now and the time whatever pronouncements over my impending demise are made.
I am heading towards my glory years; and it going to take some careful planning and execution as I begin to re imagine myself, playing smarter, not harder. There is still time enough whether it be one year or forty years. I cannot take my body for granted anymore. I cannot ignore and punish it. As long as I am able, there is a strict requirement for honor and listening, then supplying it with the necessary rest, nutrition and nurturance it requires. In this one moment I have been gifted. It almost didn’t happen.
Whatever has happened in my life has brought me full circle. I am lucky to get the chance to have a “do over” in the last act of my life, playing the part of me rather than someone else. My fear, in whatever time is left, is leaving this life realizing I never had the courage to live an authentic life.
Admittedly, I am scared. It’s a moment by moment thing requiring a firm commitment. Holes must be plugged in order to enter into right relationship with myself. Gone is the bent towards extremism in my thoughts and actions, doing everything at once or nothing at all. It is not mine to single-handedly save the world.
If I want to live out the richness and the depth of all that has brought me here, I must practice sacredness and gratitude in the gentle or not so gentle breath of each day, in allowing, in letting go, in lightening up, and in laughter, and last but not least, in the flow of words that find their way from my heart to my fingertips. I am rising up and up into this voice that has been given me, flowering quietly or noisily, vibrantly and brilliantly. I am practicing freedom, using the only voice I have to set this prisoner free.
“There was formerly a capacity for light-heartedness and play which has been to some extent inhibited by the cult of efficiency.“
IT”S ALL OUT THERE.I am ten years old, flying out the door to play with my friend across the street. My chores are complete; the dinner dishes have been scrubbed clean and are neatly stacked in the drainer, a clean dish towel covering them while they dry.
School’s out, summer is in full bloom. Jasmine’s in the air, and I am intoxicated with it. My cherry red Schwinn bike waits at the door, my portal to the world. The heat of the long day is cooling with the advent of the evening’s breeze. I step up, one foot on one pedal at the same time I deftly swing my other leg over the bike’s other side, and without even sitting down, begin pumping down the drive and across the street, wind against my sweaty ten-year old face. Breathless, I arrive at Charlene’s door.
Charlene and I are making our big plans for the remains of the evening—should we play with our dolls or race down the street on our bikes? I am not there twenty minutes when there is a firm, heavy knock at the door. I hear my father’s voice calling for me. He is ordering me home. By his tone, I know I am in trouble, and I don’t know why. So does Charlene’s mother who stands awkwardly at the door. I feel embarrassed, my face flushes. My head begins to buzz a little bit. Feeling disappointed, I’m slightly sick to my stomach. There’s a storm coming.
My father grasps me firmly by the shoulder and marches me back across the street, my bike left propped at the neighbor’s porch. He leads me to the kitchen where I am horrified to see that he has removed every single dish, pot and pan, every knife and fork and everything in between from their appointed resting place in the cupboards. They are piled on the countertops, in the sink, and on the washing machine, and he is yelling at me how he found a spot on one of the “clean” dishes I had washed, and because of that, I must now wash every dish in the kitchen. I will not be playing until this is done.
Of course, it takes me to bedtime to complete. The tears run hot down my face as I work, steaming soapy water to my elbows—not daring to shirk my assigned task or there will be worse punishment meted out in the form of a hand-picked switch across the back of my legs and bare buttocks, or days spent confined to my room. I know my dad will be back to inspect my work for perfection. I am angry—it seems so unfair, but I’m just a kid.
A seminal moment. There were more than a few of these teaching watersheds in my house or my church. That beautiful, bright star racing to earth to be born into her amazing life just crashed to the ground. And stayed there.
I know how to play. In leaves or long walks, heady laughter, in beads and baubles, shaky bicycles at sixty, blackberries plucked from barbed vines on a sweltering August day and swallowed whole past purple stained lips and tongue. Arising in an instant from my seat and out the door because it is the time of Robins and Jays and Juncos and they are putting on a show just for me. In swirling yellow leaves, in piles of things, in midnight skies life is calling to me to come out and play.
But not until I’ve done the damn proverbial dishes! There is hell to pay inside my head for that. I have been torn apart with it for over fifty years.
You think you’d outgrow these things. There have been years of therapy and hundreds of healing modalities. You’ve yoga-ed to death, stood on your head, breathed, meditated years and hours on end, ad nauseum, and it yes, where has it has brought you but right here, right now, facing it down all over again. There are layers of this stuff. It’s those pesky monsters lurking in those darkened closets who stalk your days, insinuating themselves into your knee-jerk reactions and thoughts, like some kind of mad puppet-master pulling on your strings. Monsters of overwork, self-doubt and not good enough. Monsters of rape or stalking and bad men. Monsters of abuse and punishment for not being or doing what they expected. Monsters of horrible things. Some are unnamable, and some are just looking for names.
My parents are gone now. Finally, I am coming up for air. Contracting waves push me forward into the bright light.
Cords cut, blinking back the light, I see my monsters, crawling, too, out of their darkened wombs. Breathe.
Together we will learn a new language.
There is something indescribable shaping inside of my heart. I am falling in love–all those distorted faces inside the cosmos of me, softening. That ten year old, that girl of the many ages I’ve been with the broken parts just needs love. And I am surprised. Why did I wait so long—not knowing this would happen on those long days spent in the land of nothing where dishes wait for swirling blue skies and stars, where phones don’t ring and I can say anything without fear of reprisal or a backhand across the face.
With wrenching compassion and forgiveness, tears of sweetness run down my face. I understand, and I vow to keep her safe.
For all the children hiding in closets growing up to wound or be wounded, to become captors or victim, willing or not, imaginary or real, the shape of forgiveness morphs my heart, heals me bit by bit. So many wounded children in desperate need of love or a bit of wrenching compassion—the angry, haters, the wife-beaters, the earth destroyers, the less than lovely.
Here is the funny part: All those monsters? They are merely pointing to the places needing love or understanding a spot of kindness. I am listening. Still, there are moments when I fall through the cracks. There is nothing to forgive in that.
Furthermore, it is time now. The season is ripe for healing, and as a friend recently said to me, “What you got to do besides that?” She was right. No dishes, no mother, and no place I have to be—mostly. Nowhere else to go but here, loving me, without shame or self-recrimination, forgiving those that wounded me; forgiving me for wounding others, and finding infinite compassion in all of it. And…
I could go on.
But summer’s out there waiting for me, rising in full, fragrant bloom, and the jasmine is calling.