I am so grateful that I am an evolving, dynamic human and not a static character in an unconscious state. Thankfully, we are all dynamic characters in our own book of life, manifesting our reality as we see fit whether we realize it or not. I am a 44 year-old woman, wife, teacher, writer, reader, mother, sister, citizen, daughter-in-law, parishioner, colleague, Texan, cook, friend, and probably much much more.
As Shakespeare so eloquently put it, “All the world’s a stage, and all the men and women merely players: they have their exits and their entrances; and one man in his time plays many parts, his acts being seven ages.” Shakespeare’s meaning rings true to the idea of a person evolving over time from infancy to a student to a lover to soldier to a judge to an elderly person, all separate selves navigating their lives and learning lessons along the way. The circular pattern of life is present -we come into the world with little knowledge and understanding, gain wisdom through trials and tribulations, and then find a second childhood, a dependent, forgetful, hard of hearing state until we die.
The question is: What do we do with the time we are allotted between these child-like states, and what is the wisdom we need to gain to reach our truest potential? Psychologist, Abraham Maslow, would refer to self-actualization as the final stage of human development in his motivational theory. Maslow’s idea is that if we can meet our basic desires for survival, safety, belonging, self-esteem, then we can achieve our full potential. Once you reach self-actualization, then you have essentially become the best version of yourself, maximizing your potential. Doesn’t this sound amazingly wonderful? It is as if we make it to this highest level, and we want to scream “I did it! I have made it!” from the highest mountain top.
However, life doesn’t work out that simply. People have to reinvent themselves as their lives take unexpected turns: disease, death, divorce, new jobs, children, etc. Instead of a pyramid or mountain that leads to a peak, I hope that my idealized view of life is similar to the gardens at Jardins du Château de Versailles, an intricate, lush pattern that took over 40 years to create. I am the landscape architect building onto my garden that I cannot fully see, but I keep sculpting, trimming, pruning, until there are days that I don’t feel like weeding or a fungus kills one of my trees, and I have to plant another one. Or maybe, external forces come in, a hurricane or tornado, that make me have to completely rebuild, even when I don’t have tools to do it, but I figure it out anyway.
When I was just sixteen, a tornado came through my world. My almost 21 year old brother, Marc, was killed in a drunk driving accident. He was with three other college students in Houston living it up at a Jimmy Buffett concert, but on their way back through Conroe, Texas, the driver going about 90 miles an hour, couldn’t make the sharp turn, and they went airborne into a ditch. The two people in the front walked away, but the two people in back didn’t, my brother breaking his neck immediately.
Six months later and still grieving over Marc’s death, my mom died of a heart attack or a broken heart we liked to say. I went to college a year later with two fewer people in my family. After college, my father had a debilitating stroke that reversed the role of father and daughter. And in my early thirties, within two years, I had my brother, Mitch, overdose in his apartment on prescription drugs and alcohol, my father who was disabled from the stroke take a great fall that ended his life, and my two dear grandmothers, both at 95 years of age, pass from this earth. These deaths felt as if someone had come into my garden with a machete wiping out relationships and leaving stubs that would take time to grow back and bloom. The good news is I did bloom.
The beautiful part about life is the resilience of nature and the human spirit. After the tragic bombing of Hiroshima, when citizens were told not to expect growth due to the radiation, many were surprised to see red canna flowers blooming in the charred rubble. Whether it is a natural disaster, or a man-made disaster, hope and courage come when nature begins to rebuild. While death and birth are a part of the cycles of life, sometimes death comes in waves that seem unbearable. We are left wondering, how do I make it? Then we realize, we just have to be like the flower that blooms in its own time and goes dormant during the winter. And know that even in charred rubble, new growth can appear as beautiful as the red canna lily plant with tropical-like foliage and large flowers. Thankfully, I evolved through the rubble and pain of death over the years and have learned to be patient with myself in grief until my mind could bloom and be mindful again. To end this blog, I thought it fitting to share one of my own original poems, “What I Have Learned about myself in 44 Years of Existence.” I am grateful that I am not the same person from the beginning, but a living, dynamic person who is still gaining wisdom in this life until I return to that child-like state in the circle of life.
What I Have Learned about myself in 44 Years of Existence
What I learned about myself in 44 years of existence
I learned that my favorite foods as a kid will make me fat as an adult, but they still taste just as good.
I learned that being a mother has been the hardest job I have ever had and requires more patience than I ever thought possible
I learned that being a teacher is more than just a vocation, but a labor of love that fills and drains the heart at times
I learned that relationships are more important than the minutiae of details we stress over.
What I realize about myself in 44 years of existence
I realize that each day is a new day and that I am a work in progress
I realize that the aging process is one of humility and self-acceptance
I realize that the less I judge the more loving and joyful I am
I realize that life is not about short cuts;
It takes hard work and a vision
What I accept about myself after 44 years of existence
I accept that I will never have all the answers to all of my questions
I accept that people are complex emotional beings, and like wine, they all need to breathe and be vulnerable
I accept that there is a limit to what I can do, but I will make mindful choices of what I am able to do
I accept that life is full of imperfect people who at the crux of life want a meaningful existence with love
What I hope for myself after 44 years of existence
I hope that I will be the kind, loving old lady and not a grumpy, grouchy one when I am 80
I hope that good health and joy follow me to the end as a loving friend
I hope that I will experience and appreciate many diverse places and people of this world
I hope that I will live intentionally and meaningfully, one relationship at a time
Beautiful, Martha. So true…
So many layers to your writing–you have been through so much and are gifted in your expression.