This essay is part of our inquiry into the theme of Aging. To read more by Georgianne, check out this essay she wrote on the healing power of free-form dance.
Turning 60 was a real turning point in my life. The intensity of parenting for 20 years, the oscillating questions of self-worth through the decades, the existential struggles with who and what I am, all seemed so much less front and center to this new decade of my life.
On my 60th birthday, my dear friend Camille orchestrated the friends at my party into two groups: those over 60 and those younger than 60. She placed a gold fabric between the two groups and I was to walk over that threshold into the 60 and above group. I remember pausing as I looked at the elder group and thought, “My God, look at these people.” There was so much richness and beauty there. Their faces and bodies had the gravity and grace of having lived through it all. I felt so privileged to join this group of elders even though I didn’t even feel like one yet. How had I earned this distinction? Was it just about having survived this long that afforded me a ticket into a distinguished club?
I took a few steps, first pausing on the threshold of the “golden mean,” and then, I joined the group. I felt securely “held” with people who really knew what “containment” meant. They had struggled and come through the indignities of being imperfect, they had parented and wore the blessings and humility of that, they had been through relationships that crashed and burned, second marriages and divorces, wounds that had somehow healed through the temperance of time. They had changed career paths and survived to tell the tale. Some had stayed steady on one path and had licked boredom, loneliness or complacency. Some still struggled with many a sundry issue on a daily basis, but they had ascended to this place of “elder-hood.” I stepped into this ring, so to speak, of those who had tasted the gamut of life’s offerings. I had crossed over.
When I turned around and looked back at the “younger” group, they looked so much younger. “Inexperienced.” Not as solid. There were still questions in their eyes. They were looking ahead into the future. I was (tentatively) now a part of this other society. We were steady like trees, grounded in who we were. And, we were... looking back.
YET, IRONICALLY ALL OF THESE HURDLES ARE THE NECESSARY STUFF OF CREATING CHARACTER, OF SIFTING THROUGH THE COMPLEXITIES OF A LIFE, AND PIECING TOGETHER A “TEMPLATE OF MEANING” FOR US TO LIVE BY.
I get a forlorn feeling in the pit of my stomach when I scan the past and think about the quote from George Bernard Shaw, “Youth is wasted on the young.” His conclusion is that when we are young we don’t recognize the preciousness of each moment, the gift of each passing day, that we waste our time on resentment, anger, jealousy, self-doubt, indecision, and judgment — in other words the so-called “sins” of being human. Yet, ironically all of these hurdles are the necessary stuff of creating character, of sifting through the complexities of a life, and piecing together a “template of meaning” for us to live by. I might call it a code of “personal significance,” extracted from the failures and successes, reaping the kernels of truth that, in the end, boil down to how to live a meaningful life.
As a young woman, I didn’t trust who I was and would invariably fall in love with, and idealize the men who had something I needed. In some ways I yearned for them to fulfill my deficit, because inherently I, alone, didn’t feel like I was enough. I think that many of my pairings were that unfortunate trapping that many young women fall into who haven’t been brought up with a steady foundation which affords you a leg up in the self-esteem department. As a parent I see how easy it is, through no real fault of our own, to not give a child what they need. We try harder than our parents did to listen and mirror and act as the bulwark to their insecurities, but my parents’ generation were not great at mirroring or dealing with the unpleasant details of emotions. We were mostly left to our own devices, which definitely had some plusses in that we developed self-reliance, but the core self and feeling secure and whole from the inside out were compromised. It seems no matter what, no matter how perfect a parent you are, your children will surely struggle, be “massaged” and “taken” by life and will eventually have to establish their own credo.
I have always been the person I am today: sort of “different,” artistically inclined, always interested in the invisible mysteries and the spirit realm, a lover of nature, at home in the wild, a dancer. But, for whatever reason, we/I had to “find” our path again through many trials and errors and reintegrate the basic “soul print” of who we are simply because the perfection of the soul gets lost in the translation into the complex and challenging world of human interaction. It's just part of the deal. I had to have commerce with many to eventually recognize that what I desired in them was latent in me. I had to learn to trust my own instincts and be supported for daring to reveal my inner world. Ultimately, to be “seen” and “held” by those who have the capacity for compassion along with generosity of spirit is tremendously healing. I am blessed to have that now in my husband.
Capricorn’s are known for their steady gate. I climbed the mountain regardless of obstacles, tenacious even though I may have felt insecure at times for not measuring up. I went through a requisite number of heartbreaks, knocked on the same door probably far too long, but in time, pivoted and opened another door, standing at the threshold alert and ready to walk through into the unknown.
ISN’T IT CRAZY THAT WE THINK WE “KNOW” SOMETHING OR SOMEONE JUST BECAUSE WE’VE BEEN EXPOSED TO IT OR THEM FOR A PERIOD OF TIME, WHEN REALLY, THERE IS ALWAYS SOME NEW FACET TO EXPERIENCE OR OBSERVE.
The beauty is, in this formative time, we are being sculpted by our experiences, informed by our own unique character, and conjoined with the tides of culture, family and community. It is an essential part of the process of ripening and individuating to be at the effect of these influences. So, perhaps Shaw isn’t entirely right, though I understand his sentiment. Fuck it George: curiosity, the beginner’s mind and the blind leap, are all about youth too, regardless of the consequences. Isn't holding onto that freshness, the impact of seeing and feeling something for the first time, one of the challenges of aging? To not lose the innocence, to not be jaded by the pitfalls and aborted dreams? To still excite and be gripped by something novel? Isn’t it crazy that we think we “know” something or someone just because we’ve been exposed to it or them for a period of time, when really, there is always some new facet to experience or observe. I remember walking with my daughter when she was quite young and every blade of grass or crack in the sidewalk was enchanting to behold. How wrenchingly beautiful that was, to be taught about the precious, simple moments of taking life in, by a toddler.
I declared this year that my personal symbol of inspiration was a “comet.” More than ever, perhaps it’s a cliché, but it’s true: there is no time to waste as I rocket through the universe. My personal aging clock is ticking and I realize it’s not about the youthful leaning into the future anymore, it’s not about what will be in store for me. The future has arrived, thank you very much, and the store is already stocked full. I have paid a certain kind of dues. I am bursting with experience. There is a kind of urgency to revive what has been placed on the back burner while parenting or partnering or working. When I was parenting I simply didn’t have the extra energy to expend; as an “older” mother, I gave my vitality in the service of growing another. But now, a kind of alarm has gone off and my intentions are about both replenishing my own reservoir of creativity and life force, and giving what love I have to give. With this, I notice another perk of elder hood: many younger women seem to magnetize towards me. Sometimes, I wonder if there is something to feeling a benevolent elder’s support for their processes as they struggle to come into their own power and creativity, from one who has been there.
WHEN I DANCE I AM TIMELESS AND AGELESS. THERE ARE NO JUDGES ASSESSING MY YOUTH, CHARACTER OR AGE.
Staying in touch with the currents of life’s unfolding is essential, and I do this through dancing. This has been my way of praying, healing, and communing with the electricity of the invisible world of the spirit. It is a way to go deep into my biology and the ecology of the natural world... to feel how very connected we are whether we are conscious of it or not. It has been a way to connect with a larger web of meaning and to "time travel” in the vastness of the imagination and sense the whispers of the "ancient ones.” When I dance I am timeless and ageless. There are no judges assessing my youth, character or age. There is freedom, the chance for metamorphosis from one emotional state to another, and, the transformative, cathartic joy of taking on any character or archetype that wants to move through me. Not to mention, just settling in to what is true at this moment inside my skin.
Life has so much at every turn, if you are open to the invitations. A lot of our lives, we are so consumed with our own inner turmoil that we don’t even see what is staring us in the face. It’s a practice to flush out the debris and be attuned to the present. Taking a step is a start. And then another, and low and behold, something has changed, even in two steps. Movement has always been a healer for me in many forms, whether through dance or moving into a fresh experience.
A few more insights: set an intention, then allow the unconscious to provide messages about how to proceed. Always prepare to surrender and redirect if the “signs’ tell you to. Follow a thread of curiosity into any avenue, artistic, personal or in investigating nature’s opulent and perfect symmetry. Share a home and life with a beloved. Give it all. Recognize how finite life is!
I will end with an image of one of Frida Kahlo’s last paintings, of large, succulent, open watermelons, entitled “Viva La Vida,” inscribed days before her death and painted in the year of my birth. Even after a rich and painful life, she persevered and wildly celebrated the bounty of life’s rich and ripe harvest.
I am assured in knowing that the symbolic comet I am emblazoned inside of is still burning bright, moving at lightning speed and spreading sparks as she goes. Ask any comet, there is no turning back.