Sunday, September 11, 2016

Reclaiming the best parts of ourselves

Getting older is about reclaiming the best parts of ourselves, the parts that we discovered as teenagers but then buried for fear that they might be ridiculed or destroyed. Or possibly because we felt sure that no one would understand us if we expressed them. Because the world that we grew up in, while less intense in terms of social media pressure compared to today's world, was every bit as intense when it came to ‘fitting in’ or ‘assuming’ personalities that were acceptable to society. Some of those personalities included career woman, feminist, wife, mother, successful man, husband, and father—all of the things that we had to deal with and make choices about in our 20s and 30s. But I remember my teenage years; they were about self-discovery and about wanting to find the path inward to my soul after reading St. Teresa of Avila’s book The Interior Castle or The Mansions. She described seven different rooms that a person had to move through in order to find God. Those years were about intense emotions, strange new feelings, spiritual exploration and even an interest in the mystical; questions about life’s meaning, our purpose on this earth, and our place in the universe. But after I left those years, I entered another world, one that required that I fit in, work for a living, contribute to society in one form or another, and be responsible. I have done and do all those things still. But I long to clear the decks, to make room once again for the young woman trying to find her way in the world, discovering new areas inside herself, before responsibility, duty and work took over.

That young woman was a writer; she wrote poetry on a daily basis, as well as short stories. She was a reader; she loved sci-fi and crime novels, English literature and poetry. She wanted to be like her father and mother, both avid readers. She talked to them about what she read, and they in turn did the same with her and suggested books for her to read. She read Thomas Hardy’s novel Jude the Obscure (her father was a Thomas Hardy fan and she became one too), and cried at the end of that novel when Jude died alone. She remembers wandering into the living room where she found her father to share that sadness; that memory stands out because he understood how she felt, like he understood so much of who she was when she was young. He always listened to her; that was his gift to others—the ability to listen well. Her female friends loved him as he always made them feel welcome and accepted. He understood that life was unfair (because he had experienced it himself) and that Thomas Hardy was able to write about that unfairness in a way that appealed to him and to her. Her father died when she was 29 years old; he died too young. She remembers driving home to the Bronx the evening he died, a wall of grief all around her. It almost seemed real, as though the car that she was driving would smash against it. That too is a memory that she recalls clearly all these years later. He never got a chance to see the woman she became or the woman she is now. The woman who is returning to her literary roots, planted by her parents, who were gardeners of all things literary. She is returning to her roots in other ways as well—as a proud American with a new interest in American history, trying to sort out all that makes America a great country. She loves returning to her hometown where she was born and seeing the changes as it moves on without her. She is not nostalgic for the past. Yet so much of Tarrytown remains the Tarrytown of her memories—the Tarrytown Lakes, the Hudson River estates, the river itself, Rockwood State Park—all the places that left their imprint on her heart and soul when she was a teenager. She spent a lot of time alone as a teenager, and understands only now the purpose for that. That solitude was a gift to her in the midst of much that was sad around her--her father’s illnesses, family crises, unemployment and uncertainty. It became something to seek after when she entered her 20s and 30s, knowing full well that she would not find much of it during those years. Even in her 40s, there was little in the way of solitude, because each waking minute was occupied by daily home and work routines. But when she entered her 50s, her world changed, for reasons she is still not quite clear about.  The need for solitude re-emerged, stronger than ever. Solitude became something to fight for, to defend; it became a meaning for living—a purpose. It was suddenly very important to ‘have a room of one’s own’ so that solitude could be ensured. That meant being firm about the need for that; it meant not giving in to what others wanted immediately. It meant being selfish in a good way; putting one’s ideas, dreams and wishes first, for once. It meant not sacrificing what was important to oneself. Because without solitude, there is no chance to discover or rediscover oneself, to examine one’s life, to find the special meaning in one’s life. It was Socrates who said, “The unexamined life is not worth living”. She understood that as a teenager, and now again as a woman moving toward her 60s.

No comments:

Post a Comment