Along the Way

I can set out again,
Even at seventy—
Just now I resisted
Writing “seventy,”
Fearing others will see
Me as less
Than I think I am
Or try to be.

I walk fast,
Make a point
Of lifting,
Being the go-to kid—
Happy I can,
Glad to help,
And with something to prove
To me,
Working to be needed,
Not left out.

So much is behind:
Though I do not know
The time ahead,
I understand the difference
Between potential
And impossible.

But yes,
I can set out each new day
Better ready for the journey
Than I have been before;
The decades
Nourish seventy:
Years of stumbling
And years of blessings
Give a measure of guidance—
Where to explore
And where not to step again—
Offer endurance,
New and familiar vistas
Whatever is still to come.

Making Peace, Finding Peace, Seeing Peace, Giving Peace

I am beginning a new memoir project, whose tentative title is Making Peace, Finding Peace, Seeing Peace, Giving Peace.  Here are my project plans.

I recently turned 70, an age younger people often consider elderly and generally past it.  I am blessed, however, to be active and lively—as are many others my age and older.  I am even inclined to be a bit of a Peter (Petra?) Pan.  I do understand that more of this life is behind me than ahead, and no one gets to my age without suffering loss and regret.  Although I am happy and so busy with activities I enjoy that I sometimes don’t sleep enough, I look back on my life so far and see vast swathes I wish I had lived differently.  And the future is, of course, filled with unknowns.  And so I want to examine my life from my current place within it, exploring how I can better understand and reframe the past, find greater serenity, meaningfully serve others now, and embrace what life still has in store.  I would like for my new memoir to encourage readers to see and value their own lives; I want to bring them hope, courage, and peace of mind.

The Focus

The central question of my memoir is this: How can I make, find, see, and give peace now—at this point in my life—and in the years to come?

In the area of making peace, I will explore my need to make peace with

  1. Never having married
  2. Never having children and grandchildren
  3. Not sustaining the kind of meaningful career I hoped to have
  4. The men (the “Rogues”) I dated
  5. Having not been the daughter that I wish I’d been and that my parents deserved
  6. Not standing up to bullies in my life
  7. Aging and its unknowns
  8. Perfectionism
  9. Feeling less-than
  10. The possibility of rejection
  11. Not keeping up with my study of literature and earning a PhD.
  12. Not becoming a successful writer
  13. Not keeping up with my music
  14. Going in many directions without finding my purpose
  15. My weaknesses

I will examine the areas of finding, seeing, and giving peace in the context of

  1. Community
  2. Friendship
  3. Nature, the Earth, and Creation
  4. Empathy for others
  5. Encouraging others
  6. Giving pleasure through my abilities
  7. Creating without achievement expectations
  8. My conviction that life is ongoing
  9. Teaching in settings still open to me
  10. Kindness
  11. Learning without achievement expectations
  12. Exploring and sharing ideas
  13. Spiritual life
  14. Seeing more of the past’s great gifts
  15. Mutual respect—honoring others and not belittling myself

Themes and Underlying Beliefs

In the course of my memoir, I hope to illustrate, explore, and establish ways to implement more fully these beliefs about paths to a serene and meaningful life:

  1. Know that it’s not too late.
  2. Know that you’re not too old.
  3. Cultivate your own individual style.
  4. Be yourself; let others do the same.  And avoid trying to find your satisfaction vicariously through someone else’s life.
  5. Be able to articulate your values and beliefs.
  6. Each day, use your creativity, interests, and talents in some way.
  7. Write/Draw/Dance/Play music . . . to satisfy yourself, not for anyone else’s approval.
  8. Embrace this truth: If you try to do something according to someone else’s opinions—in place of your own—you’ll probably either not like the results or give up before finishing.
  9. Acknowledge that if you’re procrastinating, there’s something wrong with the situation.  Figure out and address the problem.
  10. Learn something new every day.
  11. Learn for the pleasure of learning.
  12. Have a sense of purpose in life and keep that purpose shining in your heart and mind.
  13. Understand that your sense of purpose doesn’t have to be flashy, obvious to others, or highly specific (such as “become a bestselling author” or “sing Aida at the Met”).
  14. Develop and keep routines and traditions that support order and meaning in your life.  Include time for meditation and reflection.
  15. Notice the interesting small details in nature and all of life.
  16. Keep a journal so that ideas, impressions, and memories don’t fade and days don’t get lost in the tide of years.
  17. Practice being fully present in the moment.
  18. Define the present moment as meaningful and interesting.
  19. Discover the positive potential and lessons in difficult situations.
  20. Value your blessings while you have them, and not just in hindsight.
  21. Do the best you can and then let it go.  Don’t rehash the past by asking, “Did I really do my best and try my hardest?”
  22. Once a situation is past, forgive everyone for everything (which does not mean letting bad situations recur).
  23. Realize that other peoples’ behavior makes sense from their frame of reference.
  24. Don’t try to change other people, but allow for the possibility of their changing.  (Your example is more powerful than your arguments.)
  25. Believe that no matter how hard others try to make you feel inferior, you are an equally important and valuable human being.
  26. Minimize contact with energy vampires and other people who don’t make you feel good about yourself.
  27. Don’t allow yourself to feel like a child who has misbehaved. You acted as you did for a reason, even if you will look at the situation differently next time.
  28. Look for and take opportunities to give honest encouragement.
  29. Recognize that encouraging others doesn’t mean trying to please them to win their favor.
  30. Don’t allow yourself to act out of fear of rejection or criticism.
  31. In relationships, act from the beginning according to the principle of mutual respect; it can be exceedingly difficult to change the relationship dynamics later.
  32. Identify a mentor to help you strengthen your confidence, courage, and dedication to your values and life focus.  A mentor can be someone you admire but don’t know personally.
  33. Find and seize opportunities to see life from others’ perspectives and situations.
  34. If you’re lonely, reach out to someone to whom you could give pleasure.
  35. Be aware that reaching out to and helping others can take many forms, including writing and other creative endeavors.
  36. Don’t value helping strangers above helping family members and other loved ones: both kinds of service are infinitely important, so serve where and how you can.
  37. Realize that if you fail to honor your own fundamental needs, you won’t be able to continue helping others over the long haul.
  38. If you are doing an assignment or task for someone else, first accept it consciously as something you are choosing to do, and then put your own stamp on it.
  39. Accept that getting stressed won’t lead to greater punctuality/perfection/approval than will staying calm.
  40. Strive, in your own way, to advance justice and kindness.

(The above list was posted earlier as “Forty Guidelines for Becoming a Classic.” Now I will try to explore these beliefs in more depth.)

Garnet Light

I am twelve,
Loving summer camp
With its quests
Unexpected and new,
Its routines and scenes,
Moose Pond in the morning mist—
A wide lake in spite of its name—
The cloud wisps decorating Pleasant Mountain,
Honeymoon and Japanese Islands
Present unseen,
Loving summer camp especially this summer
Because I have a best friend,
We explore, discuss, absorb
The Maine woods and our unfolding lives.

Excursions and camping trips
Are my pinnacle delight;
For some, we paddle across or down our lake;
For others, we ride, singing,
In the open wooden-gated back of a truck,
Sometimes to a distant lake or river
That will carry our canoes to our sleeping cove,
Other times to a single day’s new source of happiness.

As on the day we campers climb
Over the face of a garnet hillside
Collecting beauty from the center of the Earth.

I love rocks—geology has risen high
Among the fascinations
That will rise and fall and rise in new forms
Across the eras of my life.

I am jubilant
Tapping on the cliff
In the warm Maine sun,
Loosening treasures,
Small rocks sparkling with deep-red gems
To carry home with me at the end of summer
In a footlocker weighing three times
Its going-to-Maine weight.

Our home, drawing by Mason Hayek

Back home
I am snared in the unhappiness of junior high;
My Maine rocks join the granite boulders in our backyard.

As my years continue,
Rocks give way to new passions—
Folk music, the great apes, ice skating, literature—
I live a floating life,
Grasping the possibilities in view,
Leaving left-behind possibilities on the shores of memory.

I meet rapids
And create whirlpools where none are intended;
I flail against benevolent waters
Because they are not the waters I seek
Or believe I need to find.

After journeying to distant shores
Seeking elusive settling,
I return eventually to Delaware,
To our little white house.

Daddy shows me he has kept my loveliest garnet rock,
Stored safely against our sheltering home.

Now the garnet-filled rock carries in its crystals
Twelve-year-old me
Held among the eons its gems have shone
Within and on the surface
Of our miraculous Earth.

My rock carries within itself
Its ancient molten infancy
And refracts the Light
To bathe my ephemeral now
With insight outside of passing time.

The girl I was is not lost
But held inside of me;
The future I wanted but did not find
Forms strata in my knowing,
In the strength I have to share.

God’s garnets in my hand
Shine their peace-giving glow
On who I was,
Who I am,
And who I still can be.