Simple reality. ♡
“A hunch that you are the sum of those incidents only you can testify to, whose existence without you, would have no earthly acknowledgement” – Barbara Gowdy “The White Bone”
First of all, if you have never read this book, go read it right now. I should warn you that it is based entirely on the perspective of elephants…that’s right, the life and times of elephants. The beauty and syncronicity with people is astounding and breath taking. It was one of the novels I never got over. This is one of my favourite quotes and I came upon it cleaning out an old drawer as I have so many times over the years. It always makes me pause and really consider the weight of these words. Our time here on earth is measured and recorded by those we spend time with. Who we are, the impact we have had, the value of our lives is wrapped up snugly with the company we keep. I, myself, am a testament to the people I love and care about. I am also a testament to the ungodly events that have shaped me as much as the triumphs. It is a big responsibility when you examine it, being the story teller for so much and so many. I have blogged on here previously about my best friend and her relationship both to myself and others – this account becoming a part of who she is and how she she will be remembered. When we are gone, these stories will be the thing that says we ever existed. Our legacy. When you think about the enormity of that, it skips a heart beat in me. Our time here is so limited, our accomplishments become more and more limited as we make decisions and level setbacks and tragedies. There is often a saying that goes: You are only limited by your own mind. But I take some exception to that being that this theory I am evolving is that our minds and our lives are very much wrapped up in other minds and lives and that these concurrent connections can often be the limits we set on behalf of the well being or otherwise of people we hang out with.
The tributes of our lives can be both a gift and a burden. I have accepted since I was young the moniker of caregiver, soul saver, sacrificer, beast of burden. Bring me your dead and your dying…I’ll take all of them. I seem to have no ability to turn away the most bleak of souls; In fact, I often prefer their company. I think there is something beautiful about the metamorphosis of tragedy. Staying along side of someone who has been shot by horrific circumstances and their journey through open bleeding wounds to scarred impunity. Sweet freedom from ignorance. The ability to see all the colours of pain and emotional brevity – like childbirth, we forget and dare to live again with a subtle or sometimes not so subtle limp that presses us against all the other living injured. How not to impact people in negative ways? How not to fall prey to the selfish indignation that says we deserve more, better? What a delicate balance to be storied as brave or heroic or kind or helpful. As often as I have been claimed this, I have been equally described as cold or uncaring. My defensive wounds coming to light. But to ignore them, to ignore the creeping defences of others is almost ludacris – like inviting the evil in. You can only hope to meet your match in tragedies and scar tissue that you might have a chance of treading together in a way that does not constantly rip the wounds wide open again. And have what we all ultimately want…someone to tell the stories about you that you hope will be your memory, your earthly existence.
I wrote recently about my Grandmother, another story of existence. We had a strong bond her and I – we shared a great love of unique jewellery, beautiful clothes, books and flirting. She was fancy and I admired her. The way she never let a bad day stand in the way of a well put together outfit and some lipstick. When my Grandmother passed, she still had a tube of lipstick in her bra, in case a visitor stopped by, she could apply a pinch of colour. Even as she was dying, she was fancy, because she loved it and people loved that about her. And I tell that story about her because it wraps up for me the link we had while she was here. Her earthly existence was wrapped up in ball gowns she let me gingerly try on and feel against my cheek every Sunday. The stories she told me about every one and the feelings she experienced in and out of them. She told me once, I was just like her, and I remember thinking it was the nicest compliment I had ever received. I think that stands to this day and I have spent the better part of my adult life trying to be the bubbly and entertaining woman she was, to recreate the feeling she brought into a room with her smile and wit. Our stories build on stories and then some. I would never be what I am without her being who she was. A cousin once told me she didn’t know our Grandmother very well, couldn’t really tell you very much about her. I gasped as if she had slapped my face. How did she not know the kind and generous woman I had grown up with? How could someone be telling the story of my Grandmother so differently? These woven tapestries we create as we live are made exactly of that…stories as different as the colours of fabric sewn together with seemingly no connection. But it is presented simply as one long blanket of experience. Our legacies.
In the White Bone, Barbara Gowdy details the lives and deaths of elephants who have long been held to show intense bonds and protectiveness of each other parallel to humans. The above quote refers to the death of one of the elephants and the how the herd must process it, grieve it and move on. It is a heart wrenching passage. It reminds me that nothing on this planet is removed from the circle of life and that we are simply one passage in the story of everything. Humbling. But it keeps me mindful of what I want my passage to read when I’m gone and how I will have to live my life to achieve that. Mostly, that is all we will get as time passes and less and less people who knew us in the flesh are present – one line. I would like it to be one that isn’t easily forgotten.
My best friend rides in a helicopter to work.
She rides a motorcycle most of the rest of the time.
She wears expensive boots that she swears she could walk across a country in that silently announce for her that she could take you out at the knees if you ever tried to mess with her.
She has been awarded the title of “the girl husbands would most likely cheat on their wives with”…there is something so intoxicating about her that even the wives have to admit they understand.
We joke she is the “serial killer” of relationships since she takes a momento, a someone, with her each time who she simply cannot imagine living without even if they are connected to someone who has hurt her deeply and profoundly. She knows that each of us is separate from our wounds. Indeed, I am one of those momentos, taken from broken. So is her son. And so it is for herself…salvaged from the kind of broken most people never recover from. She has kept herself and masterfully created the above…
I don’t need to tell her that she is successful. She knows.
I don’t need to tell her she is a beautiful mother. She knows.
I don’t need to tell her she is dizzying in her talent and her drive. She knows that too.
What I do need to tell her, each and every single day of our lives together is that she is worthwhile.
No matter how barren, broken, empty or abandoned you may feel…this is what I see when I see you.
You can’t stop the swell of life from erupting around you. It wants to be with you so badly, your insane and fantastical energy. We all do. We are all creeping like vines into your greatness. And you are always there to receive us…the fragmented, the desperate, the untouchables. You make us beautiful by proxy. We can do no wrong with your almost unsettling kindness in the face of our despair and despicable circumstances. You see the life in our barren, broken, empty and abandoned.
You think this is what you see in us but it is quite the reverse. We are simply drawn to the life in you.
The spark that cannot be put out.
You are more than worthwhile my friend, you are essential.
The brilliant part about above best friend is that she is a writer too. She wrote this in response and I thought it was worth sharing…
I believe they do.
I was at work lamenting my impending birthday when a young man came up behind me and said,
“Is it your birthday today?”
“Not yet sweetheart, in a couple of weeks”
“Well how old are you going to be?”
I sighed…”Well hon, I’m going to be 40″…more sighing
And he said (drum roll please) “You don’t look 40! You look like sunshine!”
Oh, out of the mouths of babes. And just like that, 40 meant something entirely different than mid life and thoughts of botox. Never mind the smile on his face that could have easily melted the sun itself, it occurred to me that he wasn’t being a show boat, he was serious. He did not see 40 when he looked at me. He saw sunshine.
He didn’t try to convince me I looked younger or advise me he thought I looked older, he cast the numbers aside entirely and looked AT me. He measured and weighed out all the time we had spent together, searched deep within himself and found what he thought was a reasonable facsimile and then said it out loud. Imagine…if we all did this?
If you couldn’t use a number to describe your age, what would your age look like?
I asked my very good friend and she looked me dead in the eye and said, “weary…that’s what my age looks like”. I could see that asking this question wasn’t always going to elicit the same response as I got from my 8 year old friend. And so it almost begs the question instead, “What do you think other people see when they look at you? If you think about the people who love you, what would they say?” So I looked at my friend and I thought…I see trees. The kind that everyone sees and calls “majestic”. The kind with deep roots, the roots that don’t stay put in your own yard because she considers everyone family and her family tree extends to anyone who needs to understand the definition of unconditional love. Her tree – her family tree – holds a hundred different people, all ages, who seek her out in times of trouble, in moments of accomplishment and just about any time…because her door is never closed. She thinks this is nothing, but she’s so wrong. Not every one sees the greatness in people who are struggling. Not everyone has enough strength to hold every one of them without falling over. Strength and beauty. That’s what her age is. Does that sometimes look like weary? It would be ridiculous if it didn’t. That doesn’t change the fact that in her years she has developed the ability to create oxygen for people who are gasping for breath. Sorry sister…nice try. ; )
Now let’s get real – she would not come up with this answer on her own. There in lies the problem doesn’t it? Why do we need to rely on other people to tell us all the cool, amazing, wonderful, crazy things about us that honestly can only be garnered with years and our life experience? Because as my magnificent friend pointed out, it can be very difficult in trying times to find the gift of said trying times. Aging brings wisdom and perspective but it also brings gravity…and challenges…and sometimes regret. It would be very unethical of me to peddle it as rainbows and butterflies. Aging is tough. Your body slows down even if you are the kind to live at the speed of light and proudly display your developed pecs. It’s just harder. I used to be able to jog around the block and lose 5 pounds, now I gain 5 pounds after a work out and my trainer says it’s all muscle. (I love you lady but we both know it’s my love of cake ; ) I get injuries that I never used to and they take much longer to heal. My brain holds an infinite amount of experience and wisdom but I can’t always access it at the moment I want to and I find myself saying much more often…”You know that thing, with the thing that does that thing!” And if I’m lucky, I have my very good friends around me who nod and say “Yep, I know exactly what you’re talking about.” God bless you sweet women, even if you have no idea what the hell I’m talking about.
The truth is, despite my very best efforts (and I am VAIN so my efforts are intense), I have not always been able to age gracefully. Cue the time a 26 year old told me I was the perfect woman…for his Dad. Cue the 10 shooters I drank right after to console myself. Nothing graceful about that. So I am going to try instead, to age gratefully.
Here’s what grateful means. Grateful means that I recognize that above 26 year old spent the better part of the night at my side and told me he had not had so much fun in all of his life. He also noted that he would have stayed longer but he felt truly that he would hold me back. Grateful means that despite the hangover that lasted almost 3 days, I can dance like a beast, drink like a sailor and become best friends with the DJ in a way that would have my 20 year old self green with envy. Because I am sure of myself in a way that my 20 year self could not have dreamed of. I accept compliments with “I know right?!” instead of “Oh this old thing?”. Grateful means when my adult son comes and sits on my bed and regales me with tales of how his friend doesn’t know how to do his own laundry – I recognize that my son DOES. And I taught him that. Even though he spent years turning everything pink. Our struggles have turned into accomplishment and his acknowledgement means it was all worth it. I’m grateful suddenly for the years he said I was the “meanest mom ever”. Even though to be honest, I did his laundry more times that he ever did.
Aging gratefully does not have to mean I turn in my sexuality badge and and get myself a cardigan. It means that I can redefine what sexy means to me. Sometimes I am the sexiest when I am in my sweat pants, pounding out a blog on my laptop, wine in hand, sparkle in my eye. And now I know to have people around me that recognize the sexy in that. It also means that I can clean myself up in clothes that compliment my body, tell a story about what it can do, about what it has yet to do. I have a shirt I call “The Baby Maker” – let’s get real, I’m closer to being someone’s grandma than making any more babies but DAMN…it makes me feel like giving it my best go and by proxy, it has brought the suggestion from others. You know when you have a really good hair day, it brings all the boys to the yard? It’s the power of suggestion my friends. When you are oozing the HOT vibe, people can’t help but notice. Age is exactly like that. If you are putting off the varicose veins and water pills vibe, you will find people respond in kind. Here’s the thing, I have varicose veins. I have stretch marks too. But I can still rock a reverse cowgirl like nobody’s business. And you can too. If you like that kind of thing ; ) Define your own sexy and wear that shit, even if it is a cardigan.
Being grateful means presenting the things you know about yourself to be true and that you are proud of. My friend may not have said as much when she used the word “weary” but she got that way for a reason – because she is tireless and caring and relentless in the pursuit of sending out love. She got weary because she is fabulous. And being weary does not change all those fabulous things about her. And being grateful means we learn how to tell THAT part of the story too.
So tell me, if you couldn’t use a number to describe your age, what would your age look like? Go on and use the first word that comes into your head even if it’s negative but then look deeper into that and tell me why. If you could only use one picture, one symbol, one word – what would your age look like?
I’m going to stick with sunshine. It was given to me by someone who simply doesn’t have the ability to complicate the issue. And it resonated with me. I am silly and ridiculous and have never failed to see the good in any person, (Even you ex husband. Harumph). I am the life of the party. I am the burning hot optimist. I am sunshine.
B : ))))))))
We wage war on our bodies as if we have done something wrong by being beautiful