Today is my 35th birthday. It feels more momentous than any birthday I’ve yet had. I’m not sure why.
For the last few months, I’ve been aware that the next big one is 40. I remember my mom’s 40th birthday so clearly. We all made a huge deal of it. Lordy, lordy! Stephanie’s 40! We sang that refrain for a month at least. My mom seemed so old to me then; I couldn’t imagine 40 years of life. Now it seems young. I know: Welcome to the Club.
Shortly before my grandmother’s death, I asked her if she thought of herself as an old woman. She smiled and said, “Not at all. Sometimes I look in the mirror and think ‘Who is this old woman staring at me?’ I still feel 18 inside.”
Still, it’s not just the age that feels momentous. This year feels momentous. This saying goodbye, though certainly not quietly or easily, to the collective horrors of 2020. I never thought I’d cry reading ordinary news articles about diplomatic phone calls or treaties, but I do. I can’t read the paper without tears at what once seemed routine, uninteresting events in the life of global politics.
But this bigness, this feeling of something, I know not what, pushing its way up from the soil of my life–this is different, personal, new. It feels like freedom.
My whole life, no matter what was happening around me, I have rarely felt truly at ease. Sometimes there were good reasons for that dis-ease, but often there weren’t. Often I’ve just lived with this slight internal awkwardness, this conviction that my context is just a little off the shape of my life, that there’s just this small amount of friction that over time might wear me thin.
To put it another way, I’ve been keenly aware of my differences from all the people who surround me. I’ve carried around that cliché though no less real feeling that if others really knew what was inside, they probably wouldn’t want me to stick around. And the fact that I so intuitively cover over that internal experience with cool self-assurance (I once had a therapist tell me, when I’d produced a grand narrative for some pattern of self-sabotage, “Wow. That is beautiful!” Then she paused and said, “But maybe it’s not as neat as all that.”) has only heightened my awareness of internal dislocation.
All of that to say, I don’t feel that today. I’m not sure the last time I really felt that. And today I believe that life could continue without that feeling. I could choose not to live in that place anymore. I could choose to believe that I do fit in my own life.
A few years ago, I read the following from Thomas Berry:
Unfortunately Western religious traditions have been so occupied with redemptive healing of a flawed world that they tend to ignore creation as it is experienced in our times. Consequently one of the basic difficulties of the modern West is its division into a secular scientific community, which is concerned with creative energies, and a religious community, which is concerned with redemptive energies. So concerned are we with redemptive healing that once healed, we look to be more healed. We seldom get to our functional role within the creative intentions of the universe.Thomas Berry, The Dream of the Earth, p. 25
Berry is obviously writing on the macro level, but I so identify with his words on the level of my own life. For fifteen years my entire spiritual life revolved around the black hole of my own primal woundedness. I spent those years actively engaged in healing work. I went to therapy, spiritual direction, and Al-Anon. I prayed and wrote about my own wounds and the process of healing from them. I let God and other people love me into wholeness, or into the recognition that my wholeness was never conditional to begin with.
But about two years ago, it stuck me that I have healed from that woundedness. Full stop. Never completely, of course, but enough. Enough to move on to something else, to, in Berry’s words, “get to [my] functional role within the creative intentions of the universe.” And for the last two years I’ve felt a little lost and a lot disoriented in doing just that. I have been, without ever specifically naming the process, reorienting my sense of self and my experience of God. It’s why I stopped writing. It’s why I gave up my knitting podcast. It’s why my personal prayer has been here, there, and everywhere.
The fog feels as if it’s lifting. I am not afraid. I don’t feel shy or awkward or disjointed. I feel alive and free and awake. And while my brain tells me that this, too, shall pass, I choose to live with the feeling of freedom and newness on this new day of this new year of my life.
I’d like to end this post with a beautiful tied up package of whatever my functional purpose is within the creative intentions of the universe. The truth is, I still have no idea. I’m still rather disoriented, still rather obtuse. I suppose the different feeling this morning is that I feel okay feeling disoriented. I feel safe in my own obtuseness. I feel free to let myself wander around in my life, trusting that God is wandering with me. Or perhaps God is the wandering itself.
To put it another way, I feel like myself today. And I feel very glad to be me.