Sunday, July 01, 2007

A Weekend to Change Your Life

That's the title of the book I finished this afternoon. Written by Joan Anderson, the author of A Year By The Sea, it is one woman's outline for a weekend to reassess one's life, decide what to keep and what to dump, and reimagine one's future for whatever years remain. Excellent, inspiring, challenging, life-affirming read. Not for the faint of heart, those who would rather not challenge the status quo of their existence, or those who are afraid of silence, solitude, and their own shadows. I, of course, loved it.

I finished reading it, taking notes on it, and deeply pondering some possible next steps in my own life in the car on the way home from a baseball game at Fenway Park - well, the Greenville, South Carolina, minor league team's version of Fenway Park anyway. When we were a mile from home, I asked Steve to drop me and my latest toy, a brand new iPod, off, and I walked the rest of the way.

In the gathering dusk. That time of evening when the sun has set but there is still enough light to make one's way home. As I walked, it occurred to me that that is exactly where I am in my life: in the gathering dusk. At 41 and one-half year years of age, most likely I am more than half way home, half way to the end of the race, beyond the 5th inning stretch. These final innings are mine to manage, coach, and then live through. On my own. With my own choice of soundtrack.

I know I'm not really alone. My dear friend, Antonio, explained that to me in a particularly meaningful way this past January as we drove along the northern coast of Spain. He said that one of the reasons we both like solitude so much is because we are never truly alone. There are those who travel along with us and within us in spirit, those who await our return in body, many who applaud our adventures, and others who wish us nothing but the best all along the way. That is vastly different from the profound loneliness that many people experience when no one is at home waiting for their return, when no email is awaiting their eager eyes, and no tiny envelope occupies the top left corner of the screens of their cell phones. No, I'm not alone.

On the other hand, I am very much alone. At the board of directors conference room table of my soul. In the air traffic control tower of the take offs and landings on my soul's runway. I am the only one making the decisions. Ultimately. I decide who gets in and who doesn't. Which flights I will take and which I will miss. Which goals I will strive to attain and which ones I will decline to pursue.

As I walked home tonight in the gathering dusk, I thought about the ways in which I will pursue my dream of being a regularly engaged speaker and teacher. Of traveling and speaking overseas. Of living overseas for at least six months straight at some point in my life. Of actually making money as a speaker. (Anybody out there need a speaker for a luncheon or retreat? Price negotiable.)

One red sports car with music blaring passed me three times. Slowly. What do those young men want? What or who are they looking for? Should I have stayed in the car with Steve and the kids? Is it safe to be here in the gloaming alone?

Perhaps it was foolish to jump out of the car in my skirt and sandals, with my iPod on full blast, alone on the sidewalk in my quiet neighborhood. Perhaps it was silly to think that I could handle this last mile alone. Perhaps it was impetuous and dangerous.

But so what? If I spend the rest of my life safely strapped into the minivan, living under safe and well-planned conditions, if I never step out of the security of suburbia, just how boring will my life become? Spontaneity, unpredictability, and freedom of will and spirit ought to define me. Someone once wrote that if you aren't pissing somebody off, raising somebody's eyebrows, then you aren't living big enough. May I always be pissing somebody off and raising a few eyebrows!

As I meander into my 40s, I admit to being tired of walking the straight and narrow all the time. I long for unplanned days of sleeping late, lying in bed with coffee and books until the mid-afternoon, and arising only to shower and dress for late nights of rambling conversations, dinner, and then dancing with friends and loved ones. I long for afternoons of wandering through museums at my own pace, of sitting in parks, journal in hand, people to watch, and no agenda to follow. I yearn for evenings alone in a well-appointed hotel room, incense burning, reading, snacking on lemon stilton cheese and water crackers, grapes, and milk chocolate with almonds. Silence and solitude are my favorite travel companions. As I meander into my 40s, I ask myself more and more questions, finding fewer and fewer simple or satisfying answers.

If not now, when?

If not me, who?

If I am not living this life passionately,
falling madly in love over and over again,
then what am I doing all this for?

If all the feelings, the longings, and the dreams that are surging through me and the pages of my rapidly-filling journal have any chance of fulfillment, if Anderson's book is to believed, if eye has not seen nor ear heard all that God has in store for those who love and trust in Him, then look out world: I may be entering the second half of my life, but the best is yet to come.
Even in the gathering dusk.
Perhaps especially in the gathering dusk.


Nancy said...

If not now, when?
If not me, who?

Those two lines really hit home. At nearly 50 I feel like I'm running out of time. There's so much I want to do, and I seem to have so little time between working and just plain being too tired to keep going some days. But, if not now when?

Lots of food for thought in this post. Thanks Gail. You are an inspiration!

Lisa in Ohio said...

Wonderful, eloquent words my dearest Gail! I'm amazed at how you continue to capture these kind of moments and put them into such poetic words that cut straight to the heart. You have a true gift and we are blessed to receive it through your blog. Thank you for putting words to what so many of us are feeling these days.

Thanks, too, for sharing your story about the birthday wig. I loved it! (My parents would have never allowed me to wear a wig to church!)

Blessings to you this day,

GailNHB said...

Thanks, Nancy and Lisa. Your comments are always an encouragement to me. It is always a blessing to know that my words are being read and that they matter to those who read them. Sometimes my honesty drives people away or moves them to silence. Blaring, soul-shaking silence. It is that painful, debilitating, humiliating silence that I write and sing and speak and journal and cry out against. If not me, then who? Keep on writing, ladies. Not only to me, but also to others on your own blogs - and most importantly, write to and for yourselves. Write the kind of stuff you are desperate to read.

Shelby said...

This is absolutely beautiful.

I have not read yet A Year By the Sea, but I have ordered it. I had heard about it a year or so ago - maybe longer and it has been in the back of my brain ("remember to find out about that book - remember to find out about that book .. and over and over)... finally today I remembered to find out. I was so intrigued by it, I did a search for other blogger women who also might have read it and what they thought about it.

This is how I found your blog. And then I found this post. I could have written it almost.. except for the Spain part and that sort of thing (never been over seas)..

Anyway, I just had to tell you how much I appreciate your writing of your feelings of the gathering dusk. It's where I am.

I'll be back soon :)

take care and happy day!