Wonder

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For a million years when I was a young girl, I thought my mom was 36. If anyone asked me her age, I’d kind of glance about for a second and say, “I don’t know, 36? Something like that.”

It’s possible when I dressed as a business woman at my elementary school’s Halloween party, I raided her closet for a button down jacket in an effort to look grown, like the 36-year old she was. It’s possible when I saw her in her long nightgown, slightly pink from the pattern of faded country flowers, I looked at her as the woman with reigns, like the gatekeeper of all the milk and all the honey, and she was 36. It’s possible when I wrote that I hated her (an awful teenage blemish) in my plastic white diary, its shiny key hidden under my pillow, she was 36. It’s possible when I raided the family albums, carefully peeling plastic away from the yellowed adhesive, to find old photographs of her for a Mother’s Day gift, she was 36.

How strange is it, then, that I recently turned 36. The sliding scale of what I remember about my mom when she “was 36” is inching closer to my reality now. A magical mirror is held up against my perception of this number now.

There are incredible caverns unveiled each time a woman blows out a birthday candle. Somehow, that breath blows away the dust and sand covering the blocks of untapped strength and beauty. It’s strange to recognize that it took 35 for the threadbare puppet strings to release me mercifully into a new space.  Walking through last year reminds me of the slim gorge leading to Petra, a marvel I visited over 10 years ago when I went to Jordan.

In The Condé Nast Traveler’s Book of Unforgettable Journeys, Edmund White describes Petra, one of the world’s wonders which was once ruled by Nabataeans to Romans to Byzantines, and then somewhat forgotten by the outside world for about 600 years, as a place where at ” every turn you’re hard-pressed to distinguish between natural and human creations.” 

At the time, I didn’t know of White’s advice in his travel essay: “Be prepared for lots of walking.” What I remember, though, is that walking and sweating, walking and wondering, mostly with absent-minded appreciation, and finally getting through the Siq, or the main entrance. At the end of the gnarled hallway, I gasped with surprise at the sheer architecture that unfolded under the sunlight. I was so taken by it that it took a few seconds before I realized I was crying.

Like my friend says, I caught the surprise. I hadn’t researched where we were and what to expect from Petra, but I trusted it would be worth it. I feel maybe I meandered this way when I first became a mom, something so many of us do. Like then I have blind trust in future attractions–both as a parent and as a woman.

I’m convinced that the women I’m lucky to have in my life are consistently folding out of rocks and sand and emerging a little stronger, a little wiser, a little more interesting to even themselves. And with this beautiful nod to the women ahead of me and before me, I want to marvel at their magic. When I see a woman standing at the rock of her 40s, I imagine her strength even if its only coming from the soft place of acceptance of herself.

Sometimes I wonder if these are the middle years, the formative years that we’ll need as the next big stuff in our lives change–not only as our kids grow into and out of things but also as we attend more funerals or get more midnight phone calls or get surprised by others’ life changes. I wonder if women have been created from the strongest bones as I am convinced we are, in many ways, the superior gender.

Maybe looking older is worth the swap for intelligence, camaraderie, and subtle self acceptance that comes with it. Maybe what White says about Petra is similar to our own journey: “As we pushed farther into the valley, the strangeness of Petra overwhelmed us. Everything here is improbable–the remoteness, the mineral force, and especially the bizarre juxtapositions of color, which sometimes looked like watered silk, sometimes like batik, sometimes like old rag rugs.”  What was improbable was the most surprising.

I laugh at my naive assumption that mothers of 14- year olds were always around 36-years old. No matter my appreciation of my mother, I likely considered her a flat character of our lives during that time. It makes me wonder about my kids’ impression of me and what they will feel when, one day years from now, they may have the magic mirror held up to their beautiful, older faces.

 

Unrounded thoughts on the way things line up

IMG_8629It takes a certain patience to watch women speak in different stages. This weekend at a crafty and beautiful baby shower, I heard the voice of a young lady sitting next to me, and it went up and down with a higher frequency, filled with a pattern I’ve heard before and probably abided by myself. That equally heartfelt and feigned adult. That voice represents a smaller waist, a confidence that looks over her shoulder, and a youth that makes me want to swear I never sounded my age.

But the truth is that girl–kind of a symbol of all of us when we were in our 20s–really wants to be 26, talking in a steady voice about the career she’s started right after college. And even that curious girl at 26 will still wait for things to happen and be glad she’s not 19 anymore, barely remembering details that were once important to her.

To my left sat a great grandmother, poised with nails painted red and wedge heels crossed at the ankles. We talked intermittently–exchanging dessert recipes and inappropriate jokes–and then we just sat and looked around at people engaging at the party. I couldn’t help seeing myself trying to forgive myself at 20. I wondered how all my exuberance and practiced maturity sounded to all the older women around me then.

At the same time, though, when I was 12, my mom had a friend in Chicago who would ask me to come over to hang out, which sounded so adult (and maybe a little weird out of context). She’d make me tea and she would vent to me about the disappointments in her  life. She had three kids and was probably in her late 30s.  I loved our conversations. Like many of my mom’s friends, she said I was so mature for my age, and that made me feel grown. My listening ear is sharp, but what about the things I said and felt when I was younger? Did I embarrass myself? Did I not embarrass myself enough?

It takes a lot of patience and empathy to remember how it is when you’re younger.

I wished I could talk to the great-grandmother about what she sees when she looks out at all the chatting women. How do you lean over someone at a party and say, “Hey, how does this all look to you now that you’re so much older from it?”  I imagine she is far removed from the young ladies and sees it all as stages she passed without realizing she was in them. Her generation’s popular culture didn’t insist so much self-awareness.  

In light of the solar eclipse heading our way, NPR’s science correspondent Nell Greenfieildboyce wrote a captivating article on umbraphiles, or shadow lovers, who are a “part of a small community of people whose lives orbit around total solar eclipses.” Many are captivated by its “otherwordly” or “emotional” charm. I was instantly captivated by this idea of shadow lovers roaming continents for this experience. One man says, “You may intellectually understand the workings of our solar system, and the vastness of time and space, he says, “but a total solar eclipse makes you feel it.”

How much about that sentence captures your own world? Don’t we intellectually understand how things work–college, marriage, divorce, childbirth, sacrifice–but a particular moment, most often after it, that makes you feel it.

I think back on most of my 20s–mainly before I had kids–not with a view of superiority like it may seem I’m referring, but with a sadness for moments I didn’t understand. The times I felt I understood what I didn’t, like trying to fix a family feud that I had no business doing or giving up control over my life over to others, and I feel like there is a sliver of me who was acting the part instead of truly chasing authentic emotion for the wonder of it.

The most fulfilled I am is usually when the moment has passed and I have quiet to think about it. I’m not busy engaging, preparing, entertaining, or adjusting. 

 The eclipse we may stand in a shadow to feel next week is a symbol, too, of the gift of experience. 

This “cosmic quirk of geometry” feels so intriguing to me because it’s impossible to remove the timeliness and the wonder of it; for most of us, this is a once in a lifetime experience. Isn’t that with every moment in our life? Every night I tuck my kids in, every show I watch with Kal at night; they are unique despite their ordinary.

With this eclipse, we are responsible for knowing the time is now. It makes me want to put the hype and energy for the moment in a bottle, ready to down it when I’m caught up with everything else. It also makes me want to go back to that younger self–voice of higher frequency and all– and visit for awhile. I’d want to wake her up somehow, maybe even urge her to be young a little longer without worrying about how things may line up. It will have beauty either way. 

The men in Greenfieldboyce’s intriguing article agree that the trouble of seeing any eclipse is completely worth it; it’s only the ones they miss that they regret.