“There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio/ Than are dreamt of in your philosophy.”
William Shakespeare. Hamlet: Act 1. Scene V abt. 1601
I wanted to have some erudite reference this morning to offer. I’m trying to become more of a writer, offering references and research. But let’s face it, I may very well have three children of various ages moving in in less than two months and I’m in a preparation panic. We really did not think we’d get the call this soon, so between the sewing, cleaning, shopping and praying, I’m tired. I’m not so much meditating or reflecting anymore as sleeping and snoring. My apologies as a writer, but not as a prospective Mom.
However, I don’t come to you completely empty-handed or empty-paged.
I’ve been open about being middle-aged. I offer that up as a context for what I’m about to go on about, because I don’t think this could possibly happen to people much younger than that: no digs, I just think that before middle age, there isn’t enough empirical evidence about your life to make a “big picture,” or develop a really deep understanding of how you came to be what you are.
I can look back and see how my life “built” me: the insecurities, the moments of confidence. And about so much I’ve realized that what seemed one way was another. Whereas I used to think I was friendless and couldn’t fit in, I know realize I was independent and self-sufficient. When I was younger I tried desperately to fit into “cliques,” and felt like a failure because it never worked out. Now, I try hard to avoid them, and feel like a success if I can avoid the ‘groupthink’ that becomes a part of the game. I begin to also see how my parents’ own feelings about themselves and the world shaped me, and I know make choices about what I want to keep and what I want to leave on the roadside as I move down my path in life.
I’ve said all this before. But here’s the new part.
As I look back on forty-$#@ years of my own behavior, there are things I can’t break down into a chain reaction linear cause and effect. I can see the cause, I can see the effect, but the mediation, the “catalyst” remains a mystery to me. It’s as if my soul were some fantastic, mysterious machine from Willie Wonka and the Chocolate Factory: you put some mundane piece of scrap in and something completely different comes out. Maybe it’s a phobia (though I’m not particularly bothered by those), maybe it’s a passion. Maybe it’s an ability to uniquely understand something other people don’t comprehend, or a sense of befuddlement as something all others seem to know intuitively. Either way, maybe you know that some event when you were seven is somehow related to your fascination with orchids (or in my case, silk damask), but you don’t know how.
I was in a store once, making a self-deprecating joke about turning forty to my husband. A gentleman overheard me and piped in half-jokingly “Life begins at forty.” But he was serious, and he was trying to assure me that what I couldn’t see from behind forty, I’d be able to see when it was behind me. When you’re young, you think this is some self-consoling on the part of the old. But as I neared forty, I realized: when you’re in your twenties, you’re acting out your upbringing. If you’re lucky, and the parents and the village did a good job, it’s pretty sweet. In your thirties, you start to strike out a bit on your own. Still, you’re building a life, a pattern. In your forties, you have some data and you can look back and say “oooh, I get it now. I know why I’ve done that for fifteen years.” If you were lucky, you’re talking about bad choices in plaid wallpaper (really bad choice). If you’re not so lucky, you’re talking about bad choices in mates. But you begin to see options and ways to break those patterns. Thus a life of autonomy, of independence really does begin.
As I go through this process, I am now becoming increasingly convinced that there is some deep part of each of us beyond our words, beyond even language that shapes and drives us. Of course there is the conscious world, and very probably Freud’s ego, id and superego, as well as the conscious and subconscious. But I think there’s something even deeper than that, and I’m calling it the soul. There are patterns of choices I’ve made in my life and I can look back and see that thing “X” in my childhood must certainly be related to issue “Y” in my adulthood, but I can’t begin to tell you the nuts and bolts of it all. As you get older, you begin to see that.
And if your younger life was one of confusion and pain, you begin to accept the inexplicable: that somewhere in your young, perhaps even childhood self, the pain you experienced got translated to something else that popped up in your actions, your beliefs or your dreams. It doesn’t make sense, but there it is. And it’s not always bad. With that understanding, comes the power to make choices of if, what and how to take those issues on. I have issues. On some of them, I don’t care. I’ve also seen enough to know we all got issues. I can make the choice to embrace mine or try to dispense with them. But I can see them, they emerge from the tapestry of my life as a storyline because there’s now enough of my life to see. In knowing that they’re there, and what they are, I am empowered to embrace them and their mystery or delve deeper and heal them.