Honor The Road That Brought You Here
I opened a box yesterday that was filled with little scraps of paper, notes to self, pages torn from magazines, quotes I love, photographs, and various other bits of detritus from a lifetime of trying to make sense of the world. That is when it occurred to me that I am at the stage of my life that I have become a curator of my experiences.
I can now see everything with the eyes of someone who has survived it all. I can look at the ugly parts, the painful parts, the messy parts and see the beauty in all of it. I can bring the wisdom and grace of the older me to those moments, and bring some compassion to my younger self who struggled through them.
In my experience working with elders I saw first-hand the pain that many of them experienced when they revisited their memories. That is understandable. We all have had times in our life when we thought we could not survive the pain that life was inflicting on us. And sometimes we didn’t want to. I have been in the bottom of the well before, I know how enticing it was to think I could just go to sleep and never wake up. But I survived those times, too.
Now, as I look back, I see so much more than I did then. I see a young woman who was suffering the great grief of not being allowed to be who she was. But from that suffering came the great determination to take back her power and throw off the heavy cloak of conformity that she was made to wear to make others happy. The pain came from her spirit rebelling against the outrage of being held down, as her oppressor waited for that part of her to quietly give up.
But I didn’t give up. I fought back and I came out of that experience with the fierceness of a woman who knows she has the right to be who she was born to be. The choice came from the deepest depths of my truest self. And it was the best thing I ever did for myself.
I have come to be grateful for the grief and pain. Were it not for the unbearable quality of that pain, I may still be living in a diminished form, subservient, obedient and unrecognizable. This is the great gift of the wisdom of age. I can rewrite my story. I can curate the memories in a way that interprets them in the proper context. I can celebrate even the terrible times as steps on the road that has brought me here.
When I am reminded of an especially painful time in my life I have learned not to turn away but to turn toward the pain. When I am willing to witness the pain that I felt in that place in time I can offer compassion to that part of me who suffered. I can honor her struggle, her fears, her confusion, and her disappointment in life. In this way, I can lay down the struggle and take back my power, taking the sting out of the memory.
I see that all of it brought me here, to this moment in 2020, sitting in front of a window filled with light, the last of the autumn leaves blazing and shimmering gold. That is how I see myself now, too — blazing and shimmering with the gold of wisdom and grace that only comes from the fire of suffering.
I have come to the place where I don’t need others to tell me how I’m doing. I can see that I have become the best version of myself to date, and there’s still time to get even better. I am eager to see what my 60’s and 70’s will bring by way of freedom, joy, contentment, and peace.
Many people feel that they lose themselves when they age. They feel the person they were is gone, along with the smooth skin and virile body. But aging isn’t about losing yourself. It’s about affirming who you are, who you’ve been all along. It’s about embracing your authentic self with relish, knowing that the outside part may look a little worn, but the inside part is still growing, vibrant and hungry for life.
With age, we can see how each step was necessary to get us to this place and time, and we can embrace it all, even the ugly stuff. I can see times when I was not my best self. Instead of cringing with shame, I can reach back with compassion to that younger self and assure her that she will do better. And she has.
At this stage of life, I get to decide what to keep and what to let go of. Those people who hurt me in the past, they were angels of light showing me the way along the road. I am grateful for their part in my story. I can release them from my blame, and release myself from carrying the bitterness of unforgiveness. Wisdom comes when we let go.
There are people who have left my life that I thought I would have forever. I have experienced these estrangements as a tearing, a ripping away. I have grieved, and I have begged, and I have bargained with god. But in the end, I have learned to let them go with love. I have become gentler, more humble, less prone to blame. In learning to allow others to choose to leave, I have learned to value more the ones who have chosen to stay.
As I lift these memories from the box I am amazed at how different I am. And how many of the things I saved no longer inform my life. I have changed. I have grown. I have become my truest self. I have learned so much about the world and my place in it.
No life is irredeemable. No experience too painful to move beyond. Thoughtfully curating your memories and experiences gives you an opportunity to redeem your stories. The distance we have in the final chapters of our life gives us a perspective that we could not have had when we were in the throes of the struggle. Now we can see the value of it all. We don’t have to be haunted by the past. We can make peace with our past when we realize it was all necessary to bring us to where we are today. And it’s never too late. The one lesson that I embrace every day is that life doesn’t have to be perfect to be good. There’s still time to redeem it all.