Alright, here comes one of the hard ones. I haven’t mentioned mindfulness per se of late but it is underlying everything that I write here. And in the last few days I have been dangling from the precepts like a trapeze artist wondering if she lets go midair will she fall to her death or will she be caught?
It happened again on my birthday…
Now first of all I want to tell you that everything I have written about turning 60 is absolutely true. I love being 60, that’s the best thing about this birthday, and I feel over-the-moon happy about being this age. I have never worried about aging and I still don’t but midway into my birthday day I experienced the birthday slump. It happens every year and it has nothing whatsoever to do with age in the sense of me growing older, it has to do with age in the sense that the older we get there are so many losses and they affect the quality of holidays and other special occasions.
I remember my dear friend May Sarton who wrote in one of her books about being an orphan at 50. My mother died in December 2009, my father, 20 years her senior, died in 1988. I do not really have any other familial connections that are alive and present in my life except the family I made going forward, my ex-husband who is still very dear to me and was there at my 60th birthday family party last Sunday, and our children, their spouses, and my grandchildren, and I cherish each one of them, but I find that since my mother passed, other than all of the things that go with mourning lost ones, even if the relationships were hard when they were alive, there is a vacancy and you feel a hole in your life. I experience this acutely on my birthday and Christmas.
Mind, my dear family, especially my children, gave me the most wonderful birthday in the world, and my dear friends and a whole host of dear ones on Facebook celebrated my birthday with me in the most incredible way. (As an aside I would like to say that those who say that Facebook friends are not real friends and that Facebook is yet one more form of shallow social media are simply not making an effort, not opening their heart and being genuine and authentic. Some of the friends I have made on Facebook have become very dear friends and I cherish them all. I think you get out of something what you put into it, or rather you get out of something who you put into it, meaning, who are you offering up in this medium. You will get what you give.)
I feel badly writing this because I don’t want any of my dear family or friends who did so very much for me and whom I love so dearly to feel like this has anything to do with them. It doesn’t. It is born of the fact that one day you find yourself the older generation, the matriarch as it were, and that is a beautiful, deep, and incredible thing in so many ways, but there is that little child that lives on inside of us and despite problems, and some very serious ones when I was young, there were also some really incredible things, or let me not be general, incredible birthdays. And it didn’t just start when my parents died.
I remember one birthday when my children were young and we lived in the most beautiful place in the world, in a passive solar timber frame home that my husband had built into the side of a hill. We named it Springhill and it was the most beautiful place I have ever known. On the particular birthday I am thinking of my husband and children had made the most wonderful birthday for me from the food to the gifts and were such loves, just perfect in every way, but… I walked up the hillside crying.
I absolutely cringe here and really don’t want to write this because it will make me seem so shallow and I have the fear of the little girl inside of me who cringed in a corner and was afraid of the other children who didn’t much like me except for a very few because I was, well, I can only imagine how odd I must have seemed, sexually abused from 4 to 18 and by 2 men from 6-12. The nuns made my mother take me to a psychiatrist when I was 10 because they thought something was terribly wrong. She took me once, he had me do ink blot tests and the rest of the protocol popular in 1964 long before sexual abuse was on the table for discussion in such circumstances. He told her I was just fine, just a “very sensitive child,” and I went back home and into the abuse and disappeared into the dark corners of my mind where I wrote stories most especially about who I was and what my life was all about.
Here’s the way it looked on my birthdays, as it might in other affluent families. The entire class of girls was invited to my birthday parties where there would be ponies, unbelievable catered food, and afterward with the family more presents than any child should ever have. I always had my favorite cake, a 3 layer, very rich chocolate cake filled with tiny marshmallows. It was divine. As I got older I was taken to incredible restaurants where we always had my favorite, fresh lobster and everything else on the menu that might go with it, and again, lavish presents, more than any budding young woman should have.
Let me try to explain the confusion. Trust me, if you are thinking it I heard it all my life until after I was married, “Poor Little Rich Girl.” I am here to tell you that before you make that kind of judgment you should realize that you don’t know diddly squat about that little girl. Most of the girls who came to the birthday parties with ponies didn’t speak to me at school, they just liked the parties. As I got older girls didn’t like me for other reasons because I had things that they didn’t all the while the abuse was going on and I was terrified and really just wanted someone to want to be friends with me.
There is a reason that I live with animals today and not people. Animals have never hurt me, I can’t say the same about people as a whole except for my dear ex-husband and children whom I love more than life itself and I want you to know that there is no “poor little me” in all of this, there is a 60 year old woman trying to figure out why she still gets depressed on her birthdays even though she loves them, loves growing older, and appreciates, more than I can say, everything that my dear ones have done for me. If you have unresolved issues it is never too late to try to resolve them and if they haven’t been resolved by now 60 is a good place to start.
Back to Springhill — I will not edit, I write, as I talk, in circular fashion, I trust that you can follow me. On that birthday where I walked up the hill crying I thought that no birthday, no matter how wonderful, no matter the incredible things that my loved ones had done, could match the ponies and the piles of presents. At 60 I realize it wasn’t that at all. In my family love was shown by buying things, and even more, it was the time that all the girls that I was desperate to be friends with came to my party. For one brief shining day they were there. I was a little girl that had so many holes in her there wasn’t enough love in the universe to fill me up, it ran through me like a sieve. Do I equate piles of presents and ponies with happiness? No, I do not. Do I want them today? Absolutely not, I would be embarrassed and uncomfortable. I haven’t “had money” since I was married, not like I grew up with. I got some money after my mother died and I bought my little Dragonfly Cottage. Even that burned down. You can’t hold onto money, or things, happiness, peace, and security are an inside job, and I know that, pretty much every day of the year, except maybe my birthday and Christmas.
And then there are the parents. When my father died, he who abused me, I sat at his bed for his final week in the hospital and held his hand and looked at him, he was mostly out of it. I filled an entire journal that week and I wrote a line in it that I later used in my book, “Voyage of the Stranger.” The line was “How do we stop the chain of pain, the gift that keeps on giving.” My father had been through horrors in his life and while it didn’t excuse what he did to me as he lay dying I felt compassion for him. I forgave him that week, not, really, so much for him, but for me. I had to let go.
My mother and I had a very complex and difficult relationship but because she was who she was she could also be very loving and generous. We loved each other in that tenuous way, deeply, but uncomfortably. We had terrible fights and didn’t speak for months at a time but even in the middle of the worst of it she always did amazing, generous and loving things for my birthday and Christmas. I look back, today, at the safety net those days were. No matter what else was going on I could count on my birthday and Christmas to be times of, however brief, respite when I felt loved and cherished. Then one day she died and when my first birthday came, 4 months after she died, I was nearly crippled with depression. She was gone. There would never again be that thing we get when our parents are still alive, that thing where the little child in us is still able to be alive and light up light a Christmas tree, at least 2 days a year. I was now the grown-up, and the little girl is, as May Sarton wrote, an orphan.
Now please understand that I am not sad, not depressed, I am perfectly okay as I write this. I waited until I got on the other side of the birthday funk to write this. I wanted to be as clear as I could be while trying to figure this out. I am back to feeling the joy creeping in like rays of sunshine streaming in. The room is warming up. Rainbows are dancing all around me from the crystals hanging in the windows. Sleeping pugs are snoring and I feel overcome with love looking at them. I am happy.
It is a mystery, this birthday business, and I think this year, in this entry, I have come closer to understanding it than I ever have. I feel so much love and so much gratitude for everyone who did so much to make this birthday special, and it truly was. I almost didn’t write this post because I didn’t want anyone to read it and feel unappreciated or as though I didn’t love them and what they did for me with all my heart because I did, but the larger issue is that my life, in large part, is about writing my truth in an effort to help others, and I know that I have, and if anything in this entry, any little shred, helps even one person, then I will have done my job. And now it it written, now I am finished.
I don’t know how I will feel about this tomorrow. I don’t know how I will feel on my birthday next year, but I think I am unravelling a mass of tangled knots that have hidden the truth for far too long. This year I have gotten a lot closer to understanding, and right now, at this very moment, I am at peace.
If you are still here thank you for being with me. I love you, I appreciate you, I wish you well…