30 March 2013

still becoming

A friend I hadn't heard from in years contacted me a few days ago. At the end of his note, he wrote "How are you? It's been a long time."

It has been a long time. I thought about the person he knew and the person I am now. Our children, his as well as mine, have grown up.

So how am I?

I am well. We are getting to a time in life when health can no longer be taken for granted. In recent years, my body has been under siege by surgery, injury, and illness. At times, I wondered whether something was seriously wrong with me, whether I might not live very much longer. Now I am exuberantly well, focused on building my strength and fitness. I dance gladly most mornings. I bought body fat calipers and entered an online bodybuilding challenge.

Does that tell how I am?

For the past several years, the word "clergy" has defined my occupation better than most. I have served as Clerk of our Quaker Meeting, and much of what I have done has been to tend the Meeting community. During that time, I have seen how valiantly human beings struggle with the burdens they bear. I have come to believe that everybody is an ordinary hero, soldiering on through the challenges of life. What courage and resilience we humans have!

I look in the mirror for hints of how to tell this person, or any person, how I have changed. Who I have become. Where my life and my choices have taken me.

The face in the mirror is finer boned than I imagined I'd be. More severe. Much more fragile. Warier. Still warm, still cheerful, but with a firm determination that does not quite mask the underlying well of suffering and compassion. Still restless, still quick to joke, still seeking to learn and discover. Still patient, but the patience is sharper and thinner than it was.

I think back to who I was, the years unreeling behind me.

When I met my husband, I was 19. I had been shaped, but was still malleable. I saw myself as strong, earthy, vivid, dynamic. The tiger was my totem, and I moved through the world with a tiger's confidence. If I saw myself as a pot, it would have been an earthenware vessel -- strong and capacious.

The years and my own choices have whittled and hardened me.

I have breathed 400 million breaths and taken 50 million steps in my lifetime. I have changed 12,000 diapers. I have lugged over 10,000 bags of groceries home. I've prepared 30,000 meals. I've read thousands of books, sung and danced to thousands of songs.  I have raised four children. I have cared for my father as he died of cancer. I have been deeply hurt by people I loved. I have been lightly cast aside by a culture focused on youth and maleness. I have sat with people in deep pain, knowing that I had nothing to offer them but my compassion. I have told computers what to do and how to do it. I have mastered cookery. I have pumped iron. I have walked cheerfully over the earth answering that of God in everyone. I have studied the art of shibori dyeing, the art of haiku. I have developed a system for designing knitwear that fits.

I've been married to the same man for 28 years.

I have been shattered. I have performed the Japanese art of kintsugi on myself, fitting the broken bits of myself back together in a way that celebrates the beauty of both the shattering and of the continued work that I do to live up to my potential.

Looking in the mirror, I find that I am no longer a tiger. The years have shaped me to become a bird instead. I am not a strong earthenware vessel. I am more like a ceremonial porcelain chalice. I can't carry heavy loads, but with a little grace, perhaps I can create brief oases of light and cheer in the darkness.

Looking in the mirror, I see that I have become a porcelain bird. I bow my head a little, shocked by this discovery but not disappointed by it.

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