I stepped from Plank to Plank
A slow and cautious way
The Stars about my Head I felt
About my feet the Sea.

I knew not but the next
Would be my final inch -
This gave me that precarious Gait
Some call Experience.

Emily Dickinson, c. 1864

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Life stages

I am always struck when I come over to this blog, preparing to write, when I look at the pictures of me on the banner. Having absolutely no idea what to write about today, but with lots of possibilities stirring around in my head, I stared at those pictures for a long time, thinking. Last night I picked up a journal I wrote in early 1982, wondering who I was then. It's almost embarrassing when I see the naive, sweet person who wrote in there, not the me of today at all. Or is it?

At that time, I had recently experienced a strong religious conversion and was praying and meditating all the time. My wonderful cat Fopaw and I and lived in a basement apartment in Boulder. My half-time job at the National Center for Atmospheric Research was secure. Life was good. That conversion and the years I spent contemplating the possibility of entering a convent, spending Holy Week in prayer and contemplation during those years -- it all seems to have happened to another person. Those years are still inside me, though. Today I don't even attend a church of any kind, and so much has happened to me during those almost-thirty years.

It got me to wondering about the passage of time. Changes come into my life so imperceptibly, to my body, that I don't notice or comment on them, which I guess is natural. The stages of a woman's life are usually thought of as happening in three or four parts. The version I like best is Virgin, Mother, Warrior, Crone. It's empowering to think of those years after motherhood to be in a sense fighting to become an authentic person. The only one of these four that I would change is "Crone," since the sense of that word to me is not just an old woman, but a hag, a disagreeable old crone.

However, in looking up the meaning of the word, I found a reference to a book I read long ago, Joseph Campbell's The Hero With a Thousand Faces. It reminded me that Campbell links the crone to the Fairy Godmother. What a different image comes into my mind with THAT change in wording. The actual meaning of the word is "old woman" and I certainly can identify with that. The young girl who wrote in my journal was in her mid- to late thirties, what I now think of is the prime of life.

Rather than thinking of myself as a different person, though, looking at the handwriting and reading the words I wrote thirty years ago, I see the stepping stone of sincere searching for meaning that I was reaching for in all those religious meditations. It culminates in the person writing here, in this blog, today. This morning, still dark outside and with my partner stirring next to me, I can give thanks for the earlier Me and know that her journey is filled with adventure, discovery, tragedy, and contentment.

This week I will have my 68th birthday. As the oldest sibling in a family of six, we are all still here on the planet, and we are all in relatively good health. My parents had the equivalent of two families: three girls were born within seven years and then they stopped having any children until I was sixteen, when they had three more in quick succession. The last two were born after I had married and left home. My very youngest sister, Fia, just had her 48th birthday and is a grandmother. Being twenty years older than she is, I can wear the mantle of "crone" or "fairy godmother" with pride and look forward to what life experiences still lie ahead.

Although I don't pray or meditate in the same formal sense that I did thirty years ago, the attempt to make contact with God paid off. Today it seems natural to hear the Voice in my heart that assures me the path to wholeness is firmly planted beneath my feet. When I stray off the path, I am very aware of it and quiet contemplation helps me to find my way back.


Linda Reeder said...

Oh, I love it! Virgin, Mother, Warrior, Crone! Especially if I can be the Fairy Godmother kind of crone.
Several years ago, when my grandchildren were quite young but no longer toddling, I invented a game for us to play called "Castle". We have a large yard, with maintenance paths running all over in and around shrubbery. We have a small bridge over a dry stream bed, 'flowing' out from under a giant, low-spreading cedar tree. There is a stone dragon by the bridge. The set up was just begging for a prince and a princess, and I was the fairy godmother. Sometime the prince fought the dragon for safe crossing, sometimes the fairy godmother used her magic wand, and sometimes we paid the dragon off with M&M's. We all had great fun.
I think those labels suit me well, but except for the first one, they do not end, but blend. I am still a mother, certainly a warrior, and definately a crone. I have the arthritic pointing finger to prove it!
This is a great post, and a good choice for my first reading of the day.

Anonymous said...

Wonderful! I am glad you are still very spiritual (as opposed to religious) and still look within for an inner source of strength.

I don't really like that word "crone," however. It does have a negative connotation. lol

Have a great birthday celebration, Jan! Another great year for a great lady!

Sally Wessely said...

Nice post. I will have to think on the definition of crone that Campbell gives. I still have the image of the crones going through Scrooge1s things after he dies that appears in the 1984 version of "The Christmas Carol" where George C. Scott plays Scrooge.

I do see those of us who have reached a certain age as having gone through Campbell's heroic cycle. You certainly could be considerd a guide for others who are progressing through the cycle.

Robert the Skeptic said...

The change from my being a believer in god to acceptance and comfort in fully releasing that belief has been life-long. I never journaled my evolution, but I can track it's progress in my mind.

I have met few Atheists who are not also "spiritual" in some manner. Indeed, I think that those of us who have actively pursued deep inquiry regarding the basis of our beliefs could not help be also be profoundly moved by what we have found along the way. The fact, for example, we understand the physics and mechanism behind what creates a rainbow in no way diminishes the emotion of joy and appreciation when we see one. I would argue, our appreciation may be even greater.

Probably like you, though, I think wouldn't have been nice to have had this wisdom back when we were in our mid-30s?

Trish and Rob MacGregor said...

Love those 4 archetypes. Happy birthday!

#1Nana said...

From one crone to another...Wishing You A Very Happy Birthday!

Buz said...

I think you should embrace your croniness. Your little brother, after all, is sliding very easily into the role of crotchety old curmudgeon.

Bragger said...

I found some of my old journals, and I intend to burn them. It was a previous wifetime, most of the writing showed my unhappiness, and I'd just as soon put all that behind me permanently. I think if you refer to yourself as a crone you automatically don't qualify to be one. ha ha!

Leave a Legacy said...

I just love your posts on this blog. Always very thought provoking.
I think I put myself in the Warrior stage, at age 53. I am finding that authentic self and I like my Warrior stage much better than the first two stages. At what point does that switch to crone? And will it be the best or worst stage of my life? See, very thought provoking.
Happy Birthday this week!

Donna B. said...

Oh DJan. I just LOVE reading your posts and so look forward to the weekends when you post on this blog. Have you ever read WOMEN WHO RUN WITH WOLVES by Clarissa Pinkola Estes, Ph.D? Your archtypes, Virgin, Mother, Warrior, Crone, bring her to mind.

You always inspire me. Your post about the pets spurred me onto a series of posts (I am still working on mainly because I am figuring out how to scan old pics so I can post them). I had three special cats I have been writing about. I also want to do a piece on my current little adopted terrier, Izzy. Hopefully, I can get them posted one day soon...

You have me stirring the pot of my memories and my imagination again. I too have kept journals and will some times read back to where I was and reflect back on my progress...

At thirty, I had just had my oldest daughter, thirty-two my second and by 38 was going through a divorce. As a young mother, I was so innocent and the years following my divorce, having to work two jobs to support myself and my daughters, I learned to be a warrior.

Going from innocent to warrior I learned to be brave, one has to fight on, despite one's fears and worry. Conquering one's fears was one of my biggest battles.

I wanted to do so many things for my girls, but so much of my energy was used up supporting us. I did what I could, and it seems it was enough. The most important lesson I learned was first, last and always making sure my children knew they were loved. Doing that, I was a success.

My fifties were honing my strengths amd accomplishing goals. I learned how to grow into myself and give myself credit for what I had accomplished.

Being a senior citizen, an older and wiser woman. I prefer to think of myself, and YOU as Earth Mothers and Peaceful Warriors. We have learned many lessons and know, as long as we know it ourselves, it is all that matters.

Children are grown or gone and we are left to help those who come along the path in search of discovering themselves. We share what we know and give love generously to all life, whether it walks on two legs or four.

We must continue as Peaceful Warriors as we continue to age and grow more wise. Like the axiom goes, "Age is not for sissies".

The Retired One said...

I was so encouraged and inspired by your post and also the wonderful comments you got too..Loved Linda R.'s response...I couldn't have said it better myself. I will NEVER refer to myself or any of my beautiful women friends as a crone...it just isn't and never has been in my vocabulary. But warrior is a wonderful way to describe surviving and being victorious over life's challenges through the years.

Red said...

I always look forward to your Sunday comments. They are usually of a deep thoughtful variety.
I like how you look back at some long ago writing. I wish more people had written and saved things so that they would have a more precise method of comparing themselves as they age.
I kept a journal for 5 or 6 years and go back to it and am amazed at how those days come back to me in great detail.

Grandmother Mary said...

Jean Shinoda Bolen calls us "juicy crones". Love it!

Mel said...

Wishing you a wonderful birthday week. I wish that I had kept journals when I was younger, because I've often wondered what in the world I must have been thinking. Plus, my memory is faulty, and I wish for more details some days.
I consider my thirties my prime years too, although I didn't realize it at the time. I feel my warrior days are behind me, so I must be in the crone phase now. It's stunning how quickly I shifted from one to the other, and I completely blame menopause for the sea change. I wish it had come later than my mid forties, but we don't get to choose these things, do we?
I love your portrait triptych and think it is lovely how your smile and your eyes look the same in all three. Have you read any Patti Digh? She blogs at 37 days, and I just finished her Life is a Verb book, which is a wonderful reminder to live life to its fullest. Anyway, on her blog page photo, you can click it to see what she calls the wacky aging process. She has a page full of photos from babyhood to adulthood and it's very interesting to see the progression. You are both very clever, and very inspirational.
Happy Birthday :)

CiCi said...

Your pictures in the banner, and the previous one too, were what caught my eye and got me to slow down and read your blog. Your energy and feisty yet calm look are attractive to people. I am so glad you started blogging and sharing your real self here.

Far Side of Fifty said...

Ha..I am a fairy godmother too! I love it..I dislike the word crone so Fairy Godmother works for me!
I think my warrior days are over..I am too tired to fight too much anymore..other than an odd mood now and again.
Happy Birthday one day this week! You are one special lady and I hope your day is just as special as you!
Great thoughts this week..I had a diary..Far Guy and I read it and laughed and then burned it..stupid:(

Whitney Lee said...

This is such a comfort. I love the progression from Innocence to Crone, though I agree that I don't care for the word. I am quite firmly in the Mother stage, but you (and the comments) make what lies ahead so appealing. I know that my youth is passing by, and while that saddens me a bit, you have made it clear that self possession will take its place. That is a truly wonderful thought.

I journal, and have for the last 15 years or so. Reading my progression from self absorbed, self conscious teenager to struggling newlywed to clueless mother is always interesting reading. I sometimes wonder how much I've grown or changed and can find the answer in my journals.

I remember when you were contemplating starting this blog. It was this time last year, was it not? I am so glad you did. It has been wonderful and emotional and incredibly thought provoking. I wonder have you gained as much from the writing as we have from the reading? As always, thank you for sharing yourself.

Stella Jones said...

I personally don't think you need to worship in the traditional sense unless you want to. It can be comforting to worship in church or equivalent together but it isn't always necessary. Probably to be at peace with yourself is enough. We all pass through life once and change and grow. It can be disconcerting to see just how much we change. In Wicca, the crone is a wise woman and I like that definition. I'm getting there. I'm 60 next birthday. I still have a lot of the warrior in me!
Happy, happy birthday to you dear D-Jan and many more to come.
Due to the time difference, I am often the last to comment on your posts. It reminds me of when I was at school and we all had autograph books.
So............. 'By hook or by crook, I'll be last in your book :)'
Blessings, Star