Periodic Denial Can Be a Good Thing

Inserted between my daughter and her two daughters.

Inserted between my daughter and her two daughters.

It is with delight that I watch my kids move into the best times of their lives, and with consternation that I watch the winding down of mine.

My oldest daughter, who is within spitting distance of 30, had a birthday party for her two-year old this weekend. My husband and I happily attended. She’s lived an un-navigable distance from me for the last decade, so it is with distinct pleasure that I can actually go to things like this since she has recently moved closer to us.

The minute I stepped across her threshold it felt as familiar and comforting as a well-worn pair of slippers.

Arrangement of furniture, check. Framed art scattered liberally on every surface and wall, check. A number of well-used, Dali-esque, scented candles throughout, check. Pictures of smiling family members everywhere, check. Eight-year-old daughter playing with gerbil family, che…oh wait, no, I wasn’t a gerbil person. Scratch that. I had cats. Two-year-old in adorable dress with matching floral headband wandering around happily, check.

Her house, less the gerbils plus a couple of extra kids could have been mine two decades ago.

cat prayingThe realization was jarring. I felt I was in a time warp, watching a younger, hipper, fresher version of myself. With no small degree of angst, I watched as her good friend arrived for the party, five-year old in tow, baby bump under her sweater. The two young women sat on the couch, their conversation shrieking “baby, child-rearing, pre-schools!” It felt strange to cock my head, listening, an outsider to the conversation instead of an active participant. Clueless about the latest toys and technology that accompany child-rearing these days, I kept my mouth shut. I did not want to say something that would make me seem (shudder) out-of-date. Obsolete.

Am I past the sell date? Um, expired?? OMG!

Am I past the sell date? Um, expired?? OMG!

Sigh.

Sometimes I feel like the “sell by” date on my life has passed. Perhaps these feelings are common to most women finding themselves post-menopause and pre-grave. In politically correct terms, I believe this phase is typified as “re-invention.”

Whatever it is, I don’t know what to do with it.

However, in the writing of this article, a possible solution has occurred to me. It involves the lovely group of women I belong to that engages in emotional gut-spilling on a weekly basis. This is very therapeutic actually, and we talk quite a bit about a mental roadblock called “denial.”

Denial typically blindly negates whatever is going on. In order to alleviate the negative effects of denial, one must become aware of actions that precipitate an ongoing cycle within which one may be trapped. Optimistically, at that point one’s eyes will be opened, and one will walk into a brighter, clearer, more unhindered life.

After a bit of  introspection, I’ve come to the conclusion that in certain instances denial can be downright liberating. When one is in the winding down, or “re-invention” phase, for example.

In my case, I plan to pull it out regularly over the next ten or twenty years, and apply as needed. Especially if someone refers to me as a “senior” or declares I should “re-invent.”

Especially then.

Thunderstorms and Tuning Forks

Disappointments are to the soul what thunderstorms are to the air.

Johann C.F. von Schuller 

I ran across this marvelous quote recently, and it resonated so deeply I felt I should write something relatively coherent about it.

Johann von Schuller was a German philosopher that lived around the same time as Beethoven. In fact, Beethoven said of his poetry that it was so beautiful and complex that when asked to set it to music, he didn’t even want to try, he felt he might do it a disservice.

Athunderstorm 2ll to say, von Schuller was a pithy conversationalist whose commentary was well worth chewing on later.

No kidding. I’m chewing on this quote in 2013 and the guy died in 1805.

I love thunderstorms. Doesn’t everybody? I love the way the lightning zigzags across the sky and the deep boom of thunder. I love the sound of rain, and the clean, fresh smell the next morning after the storm has moved on. The storm electrifies the air, filling me with a sense of wonder at the mighty strength and power of it. I vacillate between awe and fear. Too much storm will result in devastation, but just the right amount can bathe the next day in bright-eyed clarity.

So it is with disappointment. When I have the temerity of soul to cast a global gaze backwards at my life, the disappointments far outnumber the celebrations. I don’t know if that’s true for everyone, but it certainly is true for me. I’m sad about it sometimes, but realistic and objective too, and in typical optimist-survivor fashion have tried to make lemonade from lemons and all that. Happily, I am swimming in lemonade right now, but this is not the point.thunderstorm 1

This is the point: I do not take one thing for granted anymore. Not one. A sea of disappointments has so clarified my focus that even the tiniest, loving moment is magnified a thousand times. A hand holding mine. A baby’s delighted laugh. A son’s successful day at work. A fifteen-minute conversation with a daughter that is emotionally honest. A husband’s caring gesture of concern when I am tired. A friend’s prayer for me. Twenty-five encouraging comments on Facebook in response to one of my posts.

Without disappointments, the air around me would be murky with what-ifs, muddled by not-good-enoughs, marred by unforgiveness. The disappointments have broken, humbled and softened me. They have prodded my ego into a semblance of submission and pounded my pride into a glob of malleable clay fit for shaping.  Left to a life without disappointments, I fear I would be a sad mess of indiscriminate decisions based on how I feel rather than what is good and right and true.

thunderstorm 4So I thank God for the disappointments, and I thank God for His help in teaching me the right response to them. After one of life’s thunderstorms, my senses are at their peak. I can hear better, see more clearly, and confusion has fled. I am a super-charged tuning fork, on a mission to align my pitch.

For the record, lately there have been a few spring showers, but no downpours or flash floods. Lightning streaks across the sky once in a while, but it is short-lived. Fast and furious. Then the sun comes out.

I am hoping my soul will not need much more clarifying. I am optimistic that the collective result of a life lived aggressively has yielded a soul more ready to embrace simple pleasures, more willing to rest in gratitude than demand rights; content in the place it has earned in the sun.

I agree with Solomon’s words, another man who pondered life’s thunderstorms: “Behold, what I have seen to be good and fitting is for one to eat andthunderstorm 6 drink, and to find enjoyment in all the labor in which he labors under the sun all the days that God gives him. Also, every man to whom God has given riches and possessions, he is to enjoy them, accept his appointed lot and rejoice in his toil for this is a gift of God.” Ecc. 5: 19-20

Sounds pretty clarified to me. I’m with ya, Solomon.