I downloaded this picture, from early in the Occupy Wall Street movement, onto my computer desktop. Every time I open the computer the image moves me, particularly the disembodied hand holding the sign reminds me – that no matter what we’re supposed to believe, in truth changing the world begins in changing oneself. Not changing to fit in with greater ease, or even changing so our own life will hold fewer problems or challenges – but changing as an appreciation, changing through greater and more loving acceptance of who we truly are. In her poem, “The Wild Geese” Mary Oliver writes - “You do not have to be good. You do not have to crawl, on your knees, across the desert. You only have to let the soft animal of your body Love what it loves.” That kind of change.
That kind of change, like the Occupy movement, requires faith. It means understanding that loving what we love, acting from and on what is authentic in us, we may never know how we have changed the world. Mostly, changing oneself, opening to what is genuinely and uniquely us – to the darkness as well as the sunny side – gives permission to those around us to make their own changes, live with their own authenticity. And that’s a pretty good payoff.
I think of this a lot as I approach my 60th birthday – in a bit over a month. I can’t deny that I view this birthday as the beginning of the last stage of my life. But, more and more, as I move toward this day and consider the ways I want to honor and celebrate it, I notice “what if” thoughts. They leap around in my head as if they’d been suddenly freed from cages. And the animal of my body responds to these “what if” thoughts with energy and juiciness.
What if this could be the most freeing, satisfying, and fully lived part of my life?
What if I let go of worrying about failure, or punishment, or rejection and did what I feel to anyway?
What if the best things about me are the earthy, audacious, loud, sensual, and humorous things?
What if I just listened to my body and what it wants instead of trying to convince it it’s wrong?
I don’t yet know what I will DO with or about all of this, but I know that this is changing, coming to appreciation of who I truly am. Even in the last stage of life it seems there is faith in possibilities – which flies in the face of the conventional wisdom, the norm. But as Frank Zappa said, “Progress is not possible without deviation from the norm.” I tried so hard, for so many years, to live according to the norm. After all those years I’m coming to accept myself – particularly now in the last stage – as I am – not as people want me to be, so they can feel more comfortable.Changing the world begins in changing oneself – and I’m OK with that. Better than OK really. Even though it is inconvenient and uncomfortable, we must do it. At least I must – I need to continue, even in the last stage of life, to ponder the “what if” questions. I need to live those questions, holding them lightly – not as requirements for being an elder woman but for the opportunities they present to live fully – no matter what stage of life I’m in.