Things come from things

One of the first things I remember my husband, Will, saying to me when we met is, things come from things. It took me a while to understand his meaning but it was worth the wait.

As we get older it’s natural that we become less open to changes in our lives, more at ease with our routines and habits. At this stage of life we’ve tried many new things and chosen the ones we like best. I will always choose vanilla ice cream first because after tasting dozens of flavors over the years, I still like it the most.

But maybe we aren’t looking at our opportunities deeply enough. Maybe there is another layer of possibility hidden from view, a path to something greater not obvious at first glance.

My favorite example of this led to my marriage. I was helping my sister in her fledgling art gallery business and agreed to teach a children’s drawing class. Will answered an ad she placed for a children’s art teacher. We collaborated from time to time and a casual friendship developed. We were both married to other people at the time. Fast forward several months. Both now separated from our spouses, we ran into each other again and the rest is history. If we hadn’t each agreed to teach a children’s art class, we wouldn’t have found such a good friend in one another and formed the basis of our strong 15 year marriage. Things come from things.

During Will’s treatments for cancer, there were some very dark days. We were preparing ourselves for the worst and I found an outlet for my fear and grief through writing essays detailing my pain. I’ve always enjoyed writing, but it had been many years since I’d penned a word. When my friend, a newspaper editor, offered a class in non-fiction writing, I jumped at the chance to develop my skills. In addition to some much needed activity out of the house, I gained confidence in my ability and gathered the courage to begin this blog and to pursue other writing opportunities. I also made new friends. The challenge of coping with Will’s illness led me to writing again. Things come from things.

One of the friends I made in the class had a similar experience. Tasked with caring for an ill relative, she found it difficult to find resources to help her family. This inspired her to write a book about her experience and it has been a success, setting her on a new path as an award-winning author. I’m sure it never occurred to her as she dealt with the frustrating world of caregiving that this would be the result. Things come from things.

Last year I was feeling blue on Mother’s Day. It was the first one since my mother died and my only child was preparing to move away. To cheer me, Will suggested that we go for a drive and we wound up at a beautiful riverside park an hour or so away. As always, I had my smartphone with me and I took a number of photos during our outing. This led to a discussion of my love of photography and my lifelong desire to buy a good camera with which to pursue it. Over the next several months, I joined a couple of photography Facebook groups and I studied digital cameras, talked with friends about their camera preferences, and ultimately found a very nice setup in my price range on ebay. Many hours of happy (and occasionally frustrating) shooting later, I’m preparing my application to a juried photography exhibition. Things come from things.

So, my message is this: don’t reject the opportunity to do something different, or allow yourself to despair over life’s misfortunes. Sometimes the obvious is masking a great gift, perhaps a new love or a new vocation or a new friend. Embrace what life brings and stay open to the possibilities.

Things come from things.

Old Girlfriends

Old girlfriends are the best. As opposed to young girlfriends. As opposed to new girlfriends.

When I was a teenager and a young adult, I had a wide circle of friends as most young people do. We went to the beach together, went to dance clubs together, and hung out doing nothing special for hours at a time, usually in groups. We listened to music, talked about hair and boys and clothes and sex. Though our emotions at that age were intense and very near the surface, most of these friendships dissolved as we grew up and moved away to pursue our adult lives.

Now, as an old broad, I have the best friendships of my life. Our shared activities are certainly less than with my young friendships, but the bonds between us are a gift only age can deliver.

I have read that girlhood friendships are often role-playing lessons in intimacy, practicing for adult romantic relationships. Girls tend to have exclusionary “best friends” and are deeply wounded when they feel this bond has been betrayed. They tell their innermost secrets to their best friend, sharing a part of themselves no one else is privy to. When best friends break up, it’s an early lesson in heartbreak.

Old girlfriends aren’t jealous. If she has many friends I am happy for her, glad that her life is filled with people who love her. Glad there is always someone to share her joys and sorrows.

During my young adulthood and middle age, friends took a backseat to marriage, motherhood, and career. Seldom did a friend have priority; they were relegated to my spare time, which was rare.

A rich and deeply valued aspect of this stage of life is a return to friendship as a priority. The relationships I have with a handful of women near my age are different from any I’ve known before.

Old girlfriends cheer each other on. We’ve come to understand that success for one does not diminish the other, so we are free to extend genuine support and encouragement. Envy and jealousy are conspicuously absent in these friendships. We’ve outlived the need to compete and compare ourselves to one another, accepting that some friends are thinner, some are richer, and some are luckier in love. Life has taught us that for someone, WE are the thinner one, the richer one, or the luckier one.

Old girlfriends know how to truly share intimacy. We’ve all had our hearts broken by lovers, our children, or just the vagaries of fate, so we know how to walk gently around each other’s tender bits. We’ve helped each other stand again after our falls, leaned on one another when the rain poured down too heavy and cold. We’ve laughed together until we peed on ourselves about things we would never tell another soul.

As we go through this grand transition to the final third of life, we know what a dark journey it can be. Five years ago I counted one widow among my friends, now there are several. Five years ago, serious illness was an abstract thought, now it is a topic of daily discussion. We all have an awareness that we could be the next one to fall down this deep well. So we extend our hand to others in the well, lifting them back into the light and warmth. If necessary, we climb down in the well two at a time to rescue a sister who is too weak to help pull herself up. There but for the grace is on all our lips.

Old girlfriends accept us, take us as they find us. When they visit and the sofa is piled with unfolded laundry, they fold enough to make themselves a place to sit. If they must, they’ll wash a mug to share a cup of tea. Uncombed hair and chin whiskers don’t offend, melt downs and ugly crying are taken in stride. Because we know it doesn’t matter. It. Doesn’t. Matter.

There is nothing so fun as getting gussied up to go out with old girlfriends. Unlike in our youth, we aren’t comparing ourselves to one another, we are complimenting! We offer our favorite scarf to make our friend’s outfit complete. We loan our good jewelry to adorn her beauty. We overlook the scuffs on shoes that we know are her most comfortable. We tell her how beautiful she is.

My old girlfriends include some I’ve known since childhood. How different we are now from then, how alike we are again. Because the outer selves that had marriages and divorces and children and careers have fallen away, and once again we’ve chosen each other because our souls demanded it.

We have the capacity to make new old girlfriends too. We tend to recognize each other as kindred spirits when we are lucky enough to meet. That ease and comfort are there without need of time. It’s in her eyes, this sharing of knowledge about one another and the wisdom to recognize it. There’s no need to rush a friendship that may develop, it will seek it’s level like water.

We don’t squander old girlfriends. They are treasures to be hoarded and regularly polished, like good silver. The patina of the years adds value to what is already priceless.

And yet we don’t have to tend old girlfriends like the tender annuals in our garden. Old girlfriends are the heirloom roses that spring forth again and again, blooming through snow or scorching sun, releasing the heady fragrance of love and acceptance to surround us. They are dependable and reliable and when we are busy with our own concerns, they bloom on, not requiring an audience to their show.

I shudder to think how bleak my world would be without my old girlfriends. And if I’ve forgotten to tell them so, I hope they’ll read this and know I am writing to each of them. They know who they are.

The Art of Reinventing Ourselves

Change is coming. Be it subtle or strong, it is the one certainty we can count on. As I’ve reached this not-yet-old but past-midlife point, change seems to be more obvious and profound than ever before.

Inevitably, as our lives evolve, our identity follows along. We are no longer “a young mother” or a “middle-aged housewife” “or a “career-oriented businesswoman.” We’ve become a grandmother or a retiree or a senior-citizen. We wear different hats now. And all too often, I hear women say that they don’t quite know how to adjust to their changed status.

For me, the answer is reinvention. I’ve always believed that we create our own reality and no matter what our circumstances may be, we have a measure of control over how we approach and think of it all. We can choose the identity that we desire and take the steps necessary to make it fit.

Some might argue that this isn’t possible or even desirable and I would tell them they’re wrong. Each transition is a new opportunity! Sometimes, it can be as simple as a change in personal style-different hairstyle and wardrobe choices-that can set us on a path for growth. But more often a wholesale change in how we think of ourselves is the catalyst.

Twelve years ago, when we first left our snug little artists’ cabin in the North Florida woods and moved to Georgia farm country, I knew I wanted to grow a large garden and sell our excess produce. But it soon became apparent that I would find it difficult, if not impossible, to maintain dedication to my art while managing my rapidly expanding vegetable business, so I knew I had to make a choice. I chose to reinvent myself as a farmer.

I let go of the guilt from neglecting my art and began calling myself a farmer. Naturally, through the marketing of our produce, the sourcing of supplies and materials, and interaction with fellow growers, I soon WAS a farmer in every way. I had reinvented myself, embracing the change and letting it fuel my personal growth. Inwardly, the sources of my satisfaction in life became the beauty or success of a crop, the feeling of accomplishment when a task was completed, the joy of providing nourishment to my customers. Outwardly? My hands became rough and thickened with muscles, my face sported a year-round tan, and my paint-spattered shorts and t-shirts were replaced with serviceable boots, jeans and broad-brimmed hats.

While my reinvention to farmer was based on personal choice, that hasn’t always been the case. I’m no longer a farmer. When Will became ill, we had to stop farming. In the months since, I’ve had my own health problems also. So now, if I’m not a farmer, who am I? This was not a welcome nor a chosen transition, and yet I am growing from it, my resilience is making me stronger. I have more time available now and have indulged my lifelong interest in photography. I have plans to begin showing my work and offering prints for sale. Through writing of my pain and fear during the dark days of Will’s treatments, I have found a calling to write more, with this blog being a first step.

I have several friends who are widows and many others who are single through divorce. Perhaps no greater transition happens to us than the loss of a partner. Not only are we suddenly alone, but all our other circumstances change as well. From a change in financial stability to an altered social status, everything is different.

While there is grief and adjustment aplenty, there is also the opportunity for reinvention. A brand new life may not have been what you wanted, but you can choose to craft and mold it into a life in which there is growth, introspection, new capabilities, and ultimately a reinvented version of yourself. And while that process is anything but easy, it may lead to the most meaningful part of your life.

I have a friend who divorced after raising her three children. In midlife she dusted off her unused college degree, went to work as an information analyst, and loves her work more than she ever dreamed possible. Another friend who was widowed at the age of fifty-one reached out to friends and acquaintances and soon was leading a busy social life, surrounded by people who found her skills as a hostess and her quirky humor an irresistible draw. The divorced mother of another friend found herself in dire circumstances, with a very limited income and many health problems. She was forced to take up residency in a tiny apartment in a senior living facility. She soon was surrounded by friends and discovered a love of painting and drawing that she enjoyed right up to her death. She blossomed in circumstances that many would struggle to accept.

We frequently hear the term “aging gracefully,” and there can be no more graceful way than to welcome the many opportunities inherent in any transition. Even if it takes a while to discover the hidden gem, it is there and searching it out can lead to what might be the best reinvention of all, that of becoming your truest, strongest, and best self ever.