Thursday, May 12, 2011

The Meaning of Life

I am not 29 and holding. I'm not 39 again. I'm 42 today.

When I was 18, I had a strong sense of coming into my own. I was finally free, in my last year of high school, to take the courses I was passionate about. I was finally allowed to roam the big city on my own. I remember in particular a bright spring afternoon when I took myself out for a movie I knew I would enjoy more on my own than with anyone else. It was a heady, powerful time. It is no wonder, I think in hindsight, that this was the time I met and fell in love with my husband. I was incredibly alive.

If you are at all familar with the Myers-Briggs personality tests, you will know that NF's like me are forever and always wondering what we will be when we grow up. I spent years after high school fraught with anxiety around questions of vocation and work.

I planned to teach gifted kids, but I hated sociology; I loved English literature, but what do you do with an English degree? I accepted a teaching position and spent every day of the next year in tears. I started to figure out what I was good at and what I loved. What I recall most clearly was my colleague, a man named Valentine, who was easily 50 years my senior but who was younger than me -and the rest of us - in spirit. At 28, I had my first baby. I had post-partum bliss. A colleague commented that she had never seen me so free and happy. I loved parenting my kids and found a good work-family-life balance.

In the last few years, though, several shifts have happened: I began writing fiction again, in earnest, after my daughter was born; I had a back injury that resulted in some degree of chronic disability; my kids needed less than all my attention.

This past winter, I went on my annual solo retreat, determined to sort out once and for all - ha! - what I would be when I grew up. Or at least the next step.

The retreat centre I visit has a small stone labyrinth. I set out to walk it this January, weighed down with my questions and angst.

Only it was covered in snow. No problem, I thought, I can see the lumps that are the stones - I'll walk it anyhow. Only halfway round, I realized I was utterly outside the circle. A thought slipped into my mind: This isn't the season for walking the labyrinth. You can't know yet.

It made me think of Rilke, who writes: Try to be patient toward all that is unsolved in your heart and to love the questions themselves like locked rooms and like books that are written in a foreign tongue. Do not seek the answers, which cannot be given you because you would not be able to live them. And the point is: live everything. Live the questions now. Perhaps you will then gradually, without noticing it, live along some distant day into the answer.

And that's what happened. There was a cat and two books and some pain - and then one late night epiphany.

Only here's the thing: despite the gray hair and the aching back and the immediate (but deferred) need for bifocals that was come with the accumulation of years, I feel more like I did when I was 18 than anything else. I feel freed and wild and excited. I feel a deep sense of satisfaction and belonging and passion. I feel a rightness about the new possibilities that are opening up. Whether my plans come to fruition or not, I am on a very good track. I feel like I'm owning my own truth, as they say, more than I have in years and years. I'm delighted and relieved that my marriage and family are flexible and accommodating enough to allow me to take on new ventures. I'm grateful for people who are encouraging me to dream big dreams.

I'm writing this with a fever and a stiff right shoulder - I'm no spring chicken - but also with a heart that feels like a powerful engine, racing to go, eager to take the next bend in the road.

Happy birthday to me!

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