Mary Ann, please don’t worry about the future, ’cause you’re too nice a person to have things turn out bad. I know that much happiness and especially love is in your future.
June 1967 (what I wrote in Mary Ann’s annual)
It’s not just the cool air on my skin. It’s the light. And, there is a stillness, a calm. It’s a time of reaping.
The equinox is a week away, but autumn has arrived. My favorite time of year.
I wrote in June that summer is baskets waiting to be filled. Autumn is the time to fill them.
Butterflies, when they emerge from their cocoons, wait until their wings dry before they take flight. In my morning pages this morning, I wrote that I was ready, like a butterfly, to take flight.
I’ve said before that I think the caterpillar is one of the most courageous creatures ever put on earth. The caterpillar, responding to its DNA, cocoons itself, becomes a protoplasmic soup, and from that protoplasmic soup becomes a butterfly. Then, the creature who could only have an earth-bound view of the world, waits for its wings to dry, takes flight, and sees a view of the world as new and magnificent as we saw when astronauts sent back photos of the earth as seen from the moon.
I think that the caterpillar represents for me the willingness to submit to the mystery of life calling. It occurred to me that the butterfly taking flight is the end of a journey, but not the point of it. The cycle will start again.
It is in the cycle that I find faith and hope.
I visited Mary Ann recently. We’ve known each other for fifty years – from pre-pubescent girls to post menopausal women. We come from similar backgrounds: our fathers were working class men who had served in WWII; we lived down the street from each other, a short street in a new housing development, our neighbors included PhDs, a dentist, the City engineer, a former priest, and stay-at home mothers. The street teemed with kids playing baseball in the street in summer.
We met in January of 1960, when I walked by her house. What’s your name she asked me? Then, how old are you?
Buddy Holly had barely been dead for a year, his sweet lyrics found power in rock and roll rhythms as he assured us that not only was it easy to fall in love, but that love would surely come our way.
By the time the decade ended, we had graduated from high school; my mother had gone to work, but Mary Ann’s continued to stay at home. The vineyards that covered the fields behind our house had been plowed under to make room for more families just like ours. Four leaders had been assassinated, Woodstock promised a new day dawning. The sun set forever on that day when a man was murdered as the Rolling Stones strutted on the stage, their dark rhythm joining forces with lyrics that announced to the world that the girl was under their thumb.
Mary Ann married a man who cherished her, was widowed five years later, then, much like me, ended up on the bumper car ride of relationships, getting involved with men who didn’t cherish us. We took the path of the Rolling Stones rather than Buddy Holly.
But as we talked over our visit, it was clear to me that though I had been to college and she hadn’t, we had both kept ourselves in check in similar ways, believing that our role was to stay in the background, just like our mother’s had. We both have been the caretakers, tending to the needs of aging parents and parents-in-law; been the backbone that ensured that family business was taken care of.
And both of us have been responding to a siren’s call to awaken to another journey. For a brief moment, I worried that we were too late. That we were supposed to be retired now, not venturing on a new journey.
Then it occurred to me. Whatever the new path in our journey might be, our lives had prepared us for it. That the attention we paid as we tended to the needs of people who are dying, had given us a particular kind of wisdom. We had not lost time by tending to life’s ending; we had learned to trust its course.
I suspect this might be the norm for women as they enter their seventh decade. I wonder if we have an advantage over men in this. Perhaps we are so used to cycles and tending to life passages, that we can more easily see this as an opening into a new, rather than the ending of a career.
The future seemed much simpler that day I assured Mary Ann that there was nothing but love ahead. We aspired to marriage — thought that was what our lives were about; finding the right man was the happy ending, nothing much happened after that.
Love was in our future, but it wasn’t to be the man who would make up for our mothers’ disappointments born out of their sacrifices to domesticity. Instead we went on a journey to understand what it meant for us to love. We learned that it was sometimes hard work, and that we had to start with ourselves — not in a self-indulgent way — but by finding out who we were, what we wanted, and what we needed to feel cherished.
We have both found our happy ending relationship-wise, we are married to men who cherish us, who give us time to let our wings dry so we can fly.
As the days grow shorter to share equal time with the night, I am filling those baskets of summer. Preparing for the change of seasons. Reaping the perspective of a long-time friendship. Finding faith and hope in the cycle of life.
Ready to fly, and then start the journey again.