Chaos, love, death, peace, rage, wonder, protest, gratitude, and humility. Throw in “so hot that I could pass out” and this could be a description of what going through menopause feels like. 😉 Here though, these words are what the world herself feels like to me right now, here on June 13, 2020, the eve of my 50th birthday.
It’s a rough year to have a major milestone to celebrate, isn’t it? This morning I’ve been feeling for all the graduating seniors this month. Graduating and trying to celebrate in a scared human world now attacked by an invisible viral enemy—a world where it’s actually deadly to gather in large groups to celebrate in person, deadly to sing together, deadly to play or work or worship together in large groups no matter who you are. A world where much of what we used to do to bring ourselves peace we can’t do right now and where planning for the future is a practical impossibility because the past isn’t solid ground to stand on to gauge the future like it once was, at least for many people.
I suppose in theory I could feel sorry for myself, too, as I turn 50. Trying to hold a planet of worry about my beloved humanity has made my muscles so sore this month (spring?), after all. And, I can’t travel to visit loved ones or have an in-person party or even go to my favorite human places—bookstores and live theater performances—at the moment. We haven’t been able to visit Mom in person at her Memory Care home for 3 months, because they’re in total lock down because of the global pandemic right now. Given that she’s lived with Alzheimer’s disease for 17 years now, we’re painfully aware that this could be her last year, Covid 19 or no Covid 19—and that year is slipping away from us. And, more than 7.4 million people are known to have/have had Covid 19 now. It has killed more than 400,000 people worldwide. We hear from scientific experts that as many as half the people who have it don’t have symptoms right away and don’t even know they have it for a long time. Most people who die of it, die alone, or if they’re lucky, with fully shielded medical staff present—no family and friends because of the risk of it spreading. Even funerals right now are unsafe. Will that be Mom? Dad? Someone else I know and love? So damn scary.
Some countries took decisive action early and have all but eliminated the virus within their borders (go New Zealand!). Places where women are listened to and countries with women at the helm seem to be doing particularly well—have you noticed? Meanwhile, a huge percentage of people in my country seem intent on ignoring the experiences of other peoples and scientific experts and intent on spreading the virus as far, fast, and wide as humanly possible. More than 115,000 of the 400,000+ Covid 19 deaths have been in the U.S. In large part, it seems, because we Americans can’t get our heads out of our own asses long enough to do even the tiniest, neighbor-loving things anymore. Little things like wearing a mask when possible in public, avoiding gathering in large groups, or staying 6 feet apart from strangers in public places to slow the spread of the disease.
Celebrating 50 at home with the dogs, cats, garden, and Daniel, waving at friends through screens, during a global pandemic maybe isn’t exactly where I’d planned to be right now. But I love this place and these beings. I’m in no position to feel sorry for myself. So instead, let me share the five things that I ADORE about turning 50…
- I get to be 50! I’m so remarkably lucky to be here that it brings tears to my eyes almost every day now. Because many, many, MANY human beings never get to see their 50th birthday. In addition to the pandemic sweeping the globe, this spring much of the unusually home-bound world has watched in horror as young Black person after Black person after Black person has been murdered here in the U.S. A not-uncommon thing here, finally seen from a whole-world perspective at the moment. This is what the WORLD sees when they look at the U.S. right now. Ahmaud Arbery, 25, who was stalked and murdered by racist, angry, bitter white men for jogging in his own neighborhood. Pandemic or no pandemic, Black people aren’t allowed to JOG in the U.S. Land of the free, my ass. And Breonna Taylor, 26, murdered in her bed when the police didn’t knock at her door, broke down her door, and started shooting. She was a healer—an emergency medical technician (EMT). In my country, the people who are supposed to protect all citizens instead break down the doors of Black women in the middle of the night and send dozens of bullets into healers, in their beds, where they sleep. Pandemic or no pandemic, Black people aren’t even safe in their own beds here. Makes me sick to my stomach. Makes the whole world sick. And then George Floyd, 46, murdered by a police officer’s knee on his neck, in broad daylight, on a busy street, while three other officers looked on and did nothing to help—for 8 minutes and 48 seconds while he begged for life, begged to breathe. If it weren’t for the courage and quick thinking of the remarkably courageous 17-year-old Darnella Fraizer—who recorded the whole thing—the world may never have known. She ought to win a Nobel Peace prize, so brave her actions were, whose actions opened the eyes of so many, all while personally traumatizing herself to get justice for a fellow human being in the street. The police were there because a store clerk suspected George Floyd may have used a counterfeit $20. So he died, because a store clerk had a strange feeling. Not a certainty. A feeling. And because systemic racism is so prevalent here that a police officer in 2020 didn’t see a man as a human being and didn’t worry about recriminations for killing. No investigation. No arrest. No trial for him. Just death. For a suspect $20 bill. How would you feel if that was your son? Your husband? Your father? Black people don’t get justice from the justice system in my country. In the time since I’ve written this, I wonder, how many more people will my country accuse, murder, and look away from? How many white citizens will close their ears to the lived truth of generations of people here and blame victims of violent murder and other crimes simply because they’re Black.
- There’s so much to be learned and gained by speaking your mind. I speak my mind with far less fear than I once did. If there is power to be had in this little body, in this place, in this moment, and I’m conscious enough to see it, I’m going to use that power while I can. Do we ask bees not to gather pollen or dogs not to wag their tails? Why do we silence voices that want to speak and perspectives we have yet to see? So I’ve stopped believing foolish humans who tell others that they have no power/voice or that they shouldn’t use their power/voice because they’re not using it in the correct way or place or time. I release those particular demons. Life’s too short to listen to total bullshit, including your own. And too short not to listen to those who care enough to call you on yours. This is as true at 50 as it ever was. The fun part about 50 is that you get to see many of your own friends and relatives speaking up in new ways and places, doing the same.
- There’s so much to be learned by fully embracing silence and listening to the invisible and the hidden. I know less now than I’ve ever known, because I’m more aware now of how MUCH there is in this remarkable expanding universe and field of imagination, and what a tiny bit of it I, or anyone, can ever know in one lifetime. I’ve always loved to listen, and this has somehow become truer as I get older. I’m most content when listening. I love listening to trees and plants and insects and clouds and birds and animals. I love listening to others’ lived experiences too, even when they’re painful. I love to learn and because I listen so often I’ve learned that I actually love to change—and love to witness change—making me a being designed as much for chaos as for order. At 45 I was constantly wondering “Why did nobody tell us this?!” At 50, I see that we find what we’re ready to find. I’m also as happy being a follower now as being a leader—flying directly in the face of what most people in my culture apparently believe on that subject, old me included. Visible relative positions of power in a group have remarkably little to do with how heard, happy, effective, or at peace I feel. How heard, happy, effective, and at peace I feel are all within me and trusted others now, within my/our power, most days. So, much of what I needed from others when I was 20, 30, and 40, I no longer need. I can be more present now, more open. I am far freer than earlier versions of myself. I give all the credit for this to the practice of valuing and listening to silence and to the invisible and the hidden. And to wild older women everywhere who model this for us. And a little credit to the quiet, persistent voice within that notices and calls bullshit whenever she feels it within and around me—which, wow, does 50-year-old me have a lot of practice at.
- Life is as full of curiosity, wonder, and awe as ever. I’ve spent most of my days feeling supported by my family and community, and thanks to that, plus considerable good luck, I’ve gotten to spend my days learning. At 50 I‘ve learned both how to rest well (with little to no guilt) and how to stay with pain as long as needed, thanks to teachers and mentors and guides and gurus and playful spirits too countless to name, even if my 50-year-old brain could remember all their names! I’ve learned that by resting well some days and by staying with/not looking away from the pain of the human world other days that I still get to be me at age 50. The Me I love. The Me that I already was at 5 years old, before the human world taught me to hide who I am. And that means that at 50 I still get to feel all the feelings I could feel at age 5, plus some I couldn’t quite imagine back then. And wow, are there some great emotions that we humans get to feel. Curiosity, wonder, awe, and joy so all-encompassing that it makes your butt wiggle are favorites of mine. Grief now, too, is a friend. She has a unique ability to connect us across imagined boundaries and, at times, to burn away what doesn’t matter to us anymore while leaving what does matter glowing within and around us. A remarkable number of middle age humans aren’t so fortunate. A remarkable number of adults in my culture ignore, minimize, berate, and belittle the pain we and others feel. We don’t allow ourselves guilt-free rest to reflect and fully experience and name and share what we feel and to grieve losses: demonstrating to children, who are very wise, that that’s just what good grownups do. We call ourselves and others lazy for getting the rest we need. Is that what we want our children to learn? That good grownups kill their own, and then others’, feelings? That adults run around exhausted, are numb and unfeeling? So that we end up stuck, generation after generation, with the emotions that not enough space/time/reflection/rest/sharing/feeling heard naturally brings up in us? Look at President Trump, for example. Across the dozens (some say) or hundreds (I feel) of human emotions that we’re lucky enough to get to experience in our lifetimes, how many emotions does he have to chose from in any given moment? Is he even aware that he has a choice? Most days, it seems, he’s stuck with only a resentful abused-child-like anger, chronic rage, an uncomfortable begrudging hero worship that doesn’t feel remotely like what love actually feels like (like when he’s sitting with Vladimir Putin), or a kind of twisted jealousy that’s he’s so hidden from himself that its clear he can’t even see it, let alone know that he’s demonstrating it every day of his life (seen vividly when he’s standing near Angela Merkel or talking about any woman who holds power and is respected by many). What a strange and horrible choice America made, the world thinks today. I think so many Americans are exhausted, isolated, and in pain—raised to hide their pain but no longer even capable of hiding it—that spreading their pain around is the only move many have left to make. On our darkest days with Alzheimer’s disease, I’ve been there. My family has been there. Feeling and facing and sharing and grieving pain together is the way home.
- Humanity is becoming less human-centered, more humble, and more grateful. At 50, you sit on a fence. At least I do. You see decisions being made by elders on one side of you. And decisions made in parallel with you by your peers sitting on that fence with you. Then on the other side you see decisions being made by teens, young adults, and early middle aged adults. If you’re lucky, you find yourself with a larger collective perspective and more tapped into the heart field than you’ve ever been before. If you’re like me, you were raised to trust up: to trust older. But at 50, I AM older, so I trust myself more than ever, too. And myself strongly trusts younger. I have as much faith in the young as I have in the old right now—most days more faith in the young—at least within my own culture. When I want ancient wisdom, I consult the trees most days. Trees are so wise and hilarious. Right now the question “Could it be that almost nobody knows what to do next?” is one I take comfort in. Everyone is an expert at something but no human is an expert at what’s happening to the global human perspective and consciousness right now. It’s so weird and terrifying and wonderful. So, gratitude and humility are the deep gifts of 50. Gratitude: I’m lucky to have ancestors and relatives who showed me and others love and kindness. I’m fortunate to have had so many neighbors and mentors and teachers who’ve taught me to be at peace with pain and anger and rage, to speak up and be heard, and to shut up and listen too. I’m grateful to have trees and lakes and whole neighborhoods and islands that I consider kin now. And I’ve been given the benefit of the doubt across my lifetime for nothing more than the color my skin happens to be, so who am I to be arrogant? And, despite our best efforts, there’s still so much left to be done. How did so many self-hating (humanity hating, environment hating, planet hating) sad, mean people end up running things in 2020? How do we change that when they seem to have access to so much financial wealth? What work should we be doing instead of the mindless corporate work that sucks energy out of so many of us? There are so many things to work on for those with more energy to tackle in the years ahead, even as we tackle our own little piece of things here! It’s so humbling, this life, this place. Or even personally, most of what I thought and did and planned in my 20s, 30s, and 40s didn’t work out at all. Life is just one surprising (and in hindsight not surprising at all) failure after the next. Yes, and. So much of what showed up instead of my plans was a deeper gift from neighbors, the universe, or God if you prefer. One of the BEST gifts life has given me is that I get to be alive right now to watch new generations who care more about the earth herself—our home—and who are able to embrace differences far better than previous generations were. Watching women, indigenous communities, Black community members, and all people of color lead in different, new, and sometimes very wise old ways. I can’t WAIT to see where we humans get to in the next 50 years. I can’t wait to see what the world herself shows us and teaches us, as painful as some of it will be. And maybe that’s why this small being will be wearing a mask, avoiding large groups, and social distancing for the foreseeable future. Because, truly, truly—I can’t wait to see where life takes us next.
Welcome 50. Welcome.