Life is easier, in some ways, when things are neatly divided into them/us, bad/good, never/always boxes.
When those boxes crumble, when the lines between certainties blur, our assumptions and givens shake. Things get trickier and more interesting.
A few box-crumbling events have happened in my world over the past few years:
a friend’s husband was accused of molesting their granddaughter. I believe that he did not do it.
another friend was attacked in her home and brutally beaten. She found her way to deep forgiveness.
a trusted employee was arrested for domestic violence. I decided to pay for his bail.
In an either/or world, I believe in accusers/victims no matter what; I want my friend’s attacker to go to prison for as long as the law allows; I draw a hard line and fire the batterer.
In the grey zone, I can be open to the possibilities of believing in the accused, marveling at forgiveness, and hoping for the batterer’s change.
My bias remains toward accusers and victims. I believe there is no justification, ever, for emotional or physical violence and also that it is very, very difficult to stop learned behaviors like battering.
Living a little bit more in the grey helps me better understand my own story. Living in the grey is expansive. Challenging my assumptions makes my ultimate conclusions–or what will be my interim conclusions–more nuanced, more complex, more allowing of further refined understanding.
Living in the grey allows the possibility of telling and hearing all the stories.
I repeat the mantra “lifeisshort lifeisshort lifeisshort.” Sometimes I add “getbusy hurryup domore lifeisshort ticktock.” I check an online calculator again—254 days until my 50th birthday.
Lifeisshort, I chant as I rush from my office to the Women of Tomorrow event before heading back to the office again. I talk with a group of high school girls about dating violence. I want to make a difference in their lives. Lifeisshort lifeisshort.
I tell my story of being in an abusive relationship, and the girls share theirs. One girl feels pressure to continue her relationship with her controlling boyfriend, and one of the other women in the room says, “Girls, you can take your time to find the right relationship, the right career, the right life. It may not seem like it now, but life is long.”
“Life is long”? Hmmm. Maybe for 16-year-olds. I am nearly 50.
Two days later, I sit at my dining room table, coffee within easy reach, Sunday’s New York Times spread out in front of me. Frank Bruni’s op-ed about maturity and Peyton Manning, the Denver Broncos’ 37-year-old quarterback, is a celebration of experience: “With a bit of age has come a better grip on the fact that a game, like a life, is long. Stay calm. Hang in. Wait for the inevitable break. Trust your training.”
Now we know that the inevitable break never came for Manning on Sunday night, but I remember Bruni’s column. “A game, like a life, is long.”
I google “Frank Bruni age” and smile. Of course. He’s 49 and he’ll turn 50 fourteen days after I do. 268 to go, Frank. Do you really think lifeislong?
The next day I read, as I do most days, Andrew Sullivan’s Dish blog, which linked to a story about Janet Yellen, who, at 67, has just become the Chairwoman? Chairman? Chair? of the Federal Reserve. “Life is long,” says the article, which continues, “It’s a liberating notion, really, to think that you don’t have to accomplish everything in your life – or ‘have it all’ – simultaneously; that leaning back during one life stage doesn’t preclude leaning in later.”
I haven’t had it all, at least not in any conventional sense or in any conventional order, but I notice that phrase again. Lifeislong. And Janet Yellen, at the top of her game, the beginning of the peak of her professional life, at 67, inspires.
Okay, if Anyone is coordinating this onslaught of “lifeislong,” I’m listening. I’m thinking.
But maybe this is mere coincidence; maybe everyone is saying “lifeislong” now and I’m just noticing. Is this the new YouOnlyLiveOnce?
I google again. The search leads me not to urbandictionary.com but to this quote from a Chris Rock movie, I Think I Love My Wife: “You know, some people say life is short and that you could get hit by a bus at any moment and that you have to live each day like it’s your last. Bullshit. Life is long. You’re probably not gonna get hit by a bus. And you’re gonna have to live with the choices you make for the next fifty years.”
And then I click on stanza V of T. S. Eliot’s “The Hollow Men”:
Between the conception
And the creation
Between the emotion
And the response
Falls the Shadow
Life is very long
Between the desire
And the spasm
Between the potency
And the existence
Between the essence
And the descent
Falls the Shadow
So. A woman advises girls. A man praises Manning’s long game. Janet Yellen has it all, in her own time. Chris Rock calls “bullshit.” I shake my head at the beauty of Eliot’s words. I pay attention.
Lifeislong invites exploration, slowing down, mixing in at least a little rest and reflection with the urgent drumbeat of “getbusy hurryup domore lifeisshort ticktock.”
Over the next 254 days, I’ll write a series of 50 posts. 50 posts before 50. They’ll be less “lifeisshort” bucket list and more “lifeislong” what’s next?
I hope to have some guest posts, too, maybe even 50 of them, from women who have already looked 50 in the eye, as well as women who still look forward to it 500, 1000, 2000 or more days from now.
Is life short or long? I don’t know yet. I hope to have a better idea by my birthday.
He quotes Christopher Hitchens, quoting Nadine Gordimer, who had advised Hitchens, “‘A serious person should try to write posthumously,’ Hitchens said, going on to explain: ‘By that I took her to mean that one should compose as if the usual constraints–of fashion, commerce, self-censorship, public and perhaps especially, intellectual opinion–did not operate.'”
So in 2013, I want to write as if I’ve already died, and live as if I might die at any moment.
This morning when I heard the news of the Aurora shooting. I immediately thought of Jeanne, whose son lives in Denver, and who wrote a beautiful post today that weaves a whirlwind of reactions into a reminder to love each other.
I keep thinking about the story of one of the people who was killed. Jessica Ghawi was in Toronto just last month at the Eaton Center, where another shooting took place. She blogged about her experience here.
I say all the time that every moment we have to live our life is a blessing. So often I have found myself taking it for granted. Every hug from a family member. Every laugh we share with friends. Even the times of solitude are all blessings. Every second of every day is a gift. After Saturday evening, I know I truly understand how blessed I am for each second I am given.
I hope she lived the past 45 days with those words in mind. I hope all of us can live with those words in mind.
In Walden, Thoreau wrote, “All poets and heroes, like Memnon, are the children of Aurora, and emit their music at sunrise. To him whose elastic and vigorous thought keeps pace with the sun, the day is a perpetual morning.”
On March 1, I had an idea so clear and bright that before I knew it, I was sending out this email:
“I’m putting together a month of blog posts for National Women’s History Month. This year’s theme is Women’s Education–Women’s Empowerment. Women’s stories are near and dear to my heart, and I believe they are important to you, too. I admire your writing, and I would be honored if you would be willing to share a story and/or photos in a guest blog post at www.angelakelsey.com. I’d love to read your stories of women who’ve contributed to your education and/or your empowerment, in whatever way(s) you choose to define the words and convey your stories. Poetry, prose, and photos are welcome.”
After the initial email, I exercised no more control over this series than I did over the hydrangea pictured here, and the pieces worked together just as beautifully, just as organically. With the exception of knowing that I wanted to contain the posts within the supportive bookends of Jeanne and Julie, I posted them in the order I received them, and if you read them in order, I think you will see that a whole, greater than the sum of its parts, was formed.
Part of me, not wanting to impinge upon the nest that’s been created of its own accord, wants to post an awestruck retrospective that simply says, “Wow.”
Wow to the synergy and the dance of the posts with each other. Wow to the openness and the willingness of the writers. Wow to the women they honor, the personal journeys they share. Wow to those who continued the conversation through their comments.
Another part wants to acknowledge the generosity of each woman who gave of herself and her life and her stories. Another part wants to highlight some of the themes that emerged.
So, in awe mixed with gratitude, I do a little of each, although these pieces are so tightly interwoven that they touch each other in many more ways than I can show here.
Today’s Nest-Making guest post in honor of women and Women’s History Month is by Julie Daley. Since I first met Julie, a “transforming force” herself, on Twitter, I’ve been drawn to her and to her truly unabashed love of the feminine and the Feminine. Enjoy.
“The connections between and among women are the most feared, the most problematic, and the most potentially transforming force on the planet.”
~ Adrienne Rich
My mother taught me many things: independence, tenacity, artistry, the joy of finding one’s passion and embracing it. She also taught me to fear: intimacy, being abandoned, being alone in the world with huge responsibilities. And, she taught me to keep going even though the fear was here. She taught me both to not trust myself and to deeply trust myself. Of course, she wasn’t the only one who taught me these things. But, as women, what we learn from our mothers is deeply meaningful because of the nature of relationship and connection between mother and daughter; it also holds deep transformational possibilities, for the same reasons.
My mother was an amazing woman, I mean truly amazing. Back when it was unheard of to be a divorced single mother, back when that carried a huge stigma and caused other women to fear her singleness, my mother walked this path with dignity. It wasn’t her choice; she was left for another.
Before she died, she remarked to me that raising her three daughters was the gift of her life.
Adrienne Rich also wrote, “The Mother I needed to have was silenced before I was born.”
This isn’t a diatribe against my mother. It is the opposite. Our relationship was problematic, yet over the years as she moved towards death, and the years since her passing, as I have become a more conscious, compassionate woman, I have come to know the huge potential for transformation our relationship held.
A few years back, I discovered something rich and deep and painful, something that ignited a love so profound that it has altered the arc of my life, like an explosion changes the course forever of the thing exploded.
I was just beginning a three-day dance workshop in the 5Rhythms, a dance practice I’ve now been engaged in for the past ten years. During this particular weekend, we began the workshop on Friday dancing solely with others of the same gender – women with women, men with men. This was the first opportunity I had ever had to dance solely with women.
As I entered the church where we were to dance, and took to the wooden sprung floor in my bare feet, I noticed something vastly different than what I had experienced before: there was no male energy anywhere. While I’ve been in all-women gatherings before, never had I been immersed in a moment when there were only women dancing deep from within their bodies, deep from the heart.
As I danced, I first felt a kind of freedom in this women-only place. It felt lighter, yet grounded, gentler, yet more sensual. I could feel a part of me emerge that I’d never encountered on the dance floor. It was this sensual, grounded, erotic playfulness, a part that needed a bit of safety to come out and explore. The woman-only space invited this out.
But as I continued to dance, I became aware of an ever-so subtle, barely palpable, fear that I was feeling. At first, I couldn’t quite feel it, yet I knew it was there in my body. I continued to dance, to dance the fear, to invite it out, to make itself known. As it did, it began to dance me. It began to speak. It had been muzzled all my life, and now, in this room full of women dancing together, without whatever layers come when men are present, it offered its gift.
This fear was a fear of women. It was a fear of being intimate with other women. It was a fear, even distrust, of the nature of women, of my own nature as a woman.
As the fear continued to dance me, tears began to fall, tears of rejection, separation and abandonment. I could feel this fear that had kept me from trusting my own mother, other women, and my own womanhood. I could also begin to sense a longing, a longing to know my own womanhood, to know these women who surrounded me with their dance, and to know my mother in her own womanliness.
This part of my mother had been hidden from me…by her. She didn’t trust this. She feared this. She didn’t know how to reach out from this place of womanhood, mother to daughter, woman to woman.
My mother taught me to fear; yet she also taught me to inquire. She taught me to distrust, yet also to hold fast to what I instinctively knew was true in my heart.
She taught me to be the kind of person that doggedly pursues the path of knowing self, the path that had taken me to this moment of dance and unfolding.
My mother had been silenced before I was born; as was her mother, as was her mother’s mother…and so on. And yet, what never had left the women I’ve come from is the deep instinctive knowing that lies at the heart and soul of being a woman.
As I danced, as the tears flowed, as I moved the fear and the fear moved me, something deeper began to emerge: an old-as-the-ages love for women and womanhood. Over the course of those hours of dance, and into the next many years of my life, what began as just an inkling in my field of body awareness, blossomed into a deep knowing and understanding of the power and nature of ‘the connections and between and among women’.
The web of women, and the love inherent in this web, is one of the most powerful, and feared, forces in life. Its nature has been repressed and silenced for thousands of years. Yet we know these connections, and the love within them, deep in our cells and in the marrow of our bones.
My mother taught me this. Now, in my wiser place, I can see how much she loved her daughters, how she would, and did, do anything, absolutely anything she could to love us, to care for us. And in this wiser place, I can see how hamstrung she was by the silencing, by the conditioning that had caused her to fear her own love, to fear intimacy, to fear her womanhood.
This understanding has brought a deep compassion for her, for women, and for the painful tension within myself between the fear of knowing my nature and the yearning to know this nature.
This tension is the creative tipping point. It is the doorway into an organically unfolding remembering of our nature as women. This nature is unlike that of men. It is not a compliment to man. It is a nature unto itself and when it stands in right relationship to the nature of man it will begin to transform our relationship to the sacredness of life.
A dancer at heart, Julie would love nothing more than to live her life and do her work from the dance floor. Ten years in the practice of 5Rhythms has opened her to the joy and wildness that is at the heart of women’s creativity. A writer, teacher, coach, and yes, dancer, Julie savors life playing with her wee grandchildren and serving the women and men who are called to work with her. Julie is happiest when she is breathing through her feet.
Today’s Nest-Making guest post in honor of women and Women’s History Month is by Bindu Wiles. It’s a milestone post for two reasons: it’s the blog’s 500th post, and more importantly, Bindu is one of the first people I met online to become dear to me offline as well. I’m very happy to have her words and images here today.
In honor of all the women who have given their bodies
as a soft place to fall
to rest upon
to enter into the world
to bear witness
We are all mothers of some sort.
Bindu Wiles is in a deep mid-life crisis that she is walking, writing and photographing her way through. She has an undergraduate degree in fine art (photography) and 3 graduate degrees because the one she really wanted all along was an MFA in writing, which she finally received at 47 years of age from Sarah Lawrence College. The tattoo on her left forearm sums up her life motto: Art Saves Lives. She has completed a 300 page memoir, her essays have been published in various literary journals, she is bringing more of the under 12 years of age crowd into her life, and is always up for a good laugh. In fact, she is trying to stay in a state of silly as an approach to aging.
Today’s Nest-Making guest post in honor of women and Women’s History Month is by Megan Matthieson. I am grateful to be able to share this story of her acceptance of an offered nest.
I have to go have a biopsy on my breast. The Dr tells me it’s probably nothing. But. The day changes tone. The color of the sky goes from blue to lavender. The importance of life swells like the orchestra at the mere suggestion of an end.
When I leave the office I think about calling my lover, and then I think about not calling her. For all the ways I don’t want to worry her and all the ways I don’t want to feel her worry.
I decide to call. I need a nest to rest in for a minute.
She is there in ways that others have not been able to be. And yes, I can tell she is worried. I let her have that. When she offers to come with me for the procedure, I waffle.
I’ve been flying solo for so long. Suddenly aware of my inability to relax and take in love, I accept. I want to grow. “But please don’t cancel anything in order to be there.”
The nest has already been built by her loving hands and she only waits for me to land. To rest for a bit.
In this day, one of a million more to come, or only a few, I will take residence in the warmth of her. I will lay down my strong will and vigilance about taking care of myself, and let this love all the way in.
I want to feel this in every day that I am blessed to be here.