On one hand I’ve always found it rather arbitrary and annoying—a number that aims to qualify, and in many cases DISqualify, the value or merit of an opinion, idea, or presence. As an old soul who historically has looked younger than my years, I have felt my age (or what others perceive to be my age) as irrelevant and confining, often adding a layer of unnecessary context to interactions that either muddy the waters or dilute it.
I distinctly remember the day I turned thirty when working in the corporate world. NOW they’ll listen to me, I thought.
What I didn’t know back then was that my age was just the tip of the iceberg as to why I was feeling like I had to shout to be heard, keep my impatience and boldness on a tight leash to be invited to the table, and craft my words carefully and strategically so they would be taken seriously. Back then, I hadn’t even begun to open the box of understanding about how my very presence as a woman was a factor in what I was experiencing. Back then, I still saw myself as “one of guys”. Back then, I didn’t even know I was white (I know, go ahead and laugh, I am…), and didn’t recognize the sea of white men I was swimming in and wanting to belong to—even as I twisted myself into a pretzel.
Twenty years later, I find myself turning fifty, and there is that same voice saying that same damn line…NOW they’ll listen to me.
But unlike my thirty year-old self, I find I am gently asking that voice:
Who are THEY, Sweetheart?
Simply say what you have inside you, Sugar. They’ll listen or they won’t.
Not everybody will buy what you’re selling.
But for some, it might make a difference,
And that makes it all worthwhile.
Age IS a funny thing, isn’t it?
Mine always seems to confuse or perplex people, rather like the guys that used to try and pick me up when I was working on the waterfront of a summer camp—they expected me to be lighter than I was because I looked a certain way, but then they gave a big OOF! And fell to the ground with the weight of me. I am not what people expect, it seems, and as a result they often don’t know what to make of me.
I am an old soul who has felt wiser than her years.
I was a tall woman from a young age.
I have genetics that have me look younger than my years.
I am older than most people assume.
I am younger than many people my age.
I relate to women in their late 60s and identify with my nieces in their late teens.
Age is a funny thing.
And yet it’s very real, in that my years have been markers of the story I have lived, the roads I have traveled, and the experiences I have both created and endured.
I have brought two human beings into this world from the center of my body.
I have sat by the bedside of my sister-in-law as she dictated letters to me for her children the day before she died.
I have held a newborn son in my arms as he took his first and then last breath.
I have wept at the souls lost and found inside sacred canyons in the middle of nowhere.
I know the smell of a mighty redwood, an ancient cathedral, and warm chocolate ganache.
I know the taste of salt on the skin from sweat, ocean, birth and grief.
I have lost all faith in humanity by witnessing our collective actions.
I have restored my faith by witnessing the kindness of a single stranger.
I write this not because I am special and have lived a particularly full life. Mine is just one of many, and we all acquire our own distinct markers over the years that signify the moments that have helped to shape and sculpt us, whether we like it, ask for it, are ready for it, desire it, resist it, embrace it or rail against it. The water just keeps coming toward us, like a river flowing through a canyon, sometimes rushing and swollen and sometimes slow, like a trickle.
I write this because age is a funny thing.
And as I sit here mid-life, I am struck by the paradox of it being meaningful and having no meaning whatsoever.
I write this because I am honored to spend many of my moments with clients who ask these questions:
Should I wait to do this…to leave…to make my move…to try this?
When is the right time….how will I know…what will happen next?
There is, of course, no answer to these. That comes from each of us living our way into those questions. But here’s where I am with living those questions in my own life—
Last week, in order to feel what the participants of my writing experience were feeling, I sat down and wrote a story (see below) about what I was noticing.
It was odd…about a dog…and somehow exactly what I needed to hear.
Then this week, I ran into a friend I hadn’t seen in over five years, and then learned her husband had died suddenly the very next day.
It was awful…and tragic…and somehow exactly what I was meant to feel.
When I put these two happenings together in my one body, the message feels clear to me:
Life is short.
And so very precious.
Do something with it—again and again.
Be in it—again and again.
Don’t budget joy and desire and pleasure.
Don’t be miserly with your gifts and medicine.
Boldness and courage often result in service and inspiration.
Don’t wait to be a certain age. It doesn’t matter.
Use the wisdom and experience of your years. It matters.
You are more free than you realize.
You are more resourceful than you recognize.
And you are stronger than you imagine.
And with that, my friend, I will leave you with the story I wrote most recently— the one that delivered me to this place I have arrived in, at the cusp of turning fifty.
We shall see what happens next.
She gave a firm tug, and nothing happened.
Another one, and still nothing.
She knew better than to keep tugging.
She was an older dog now, and wiser as a result.
But she’d also grown weary of the leash, and how it was a constant in her life,
Jerking and dragging her along, behind, over, and away from.
She knew she’d probably lived more years on the leash than she had left to live.
She knew something needed to change.
And yet, the persistent leash, and the failed attempts,
And the pervasive knowledge that dogs were no longer allowed to be wild,
But were, in fact, domesticated possessions with masters and leashes.
She thought of the years she’d lived in her version of captivity, and they hadn’t been bad.
Far from it, they’d been full of love and companionship, and even some adventures.
But they hadn’t been wholly hers, and she knew that now.
She’d learned to adapt to life on a leash, quite well.
She’d experienced choke collars, and traditional leads, even wearing a muzzle at one point,
Before settling into a harness that was away from her neck, at least,
But still encircled her chest, just over her heart, making it hard to breathe at times.
She sat down in the sun and thought, looking out at the water, which she vaguely remembered feeling.
She thought about her younger days and the places unseen by her own eyes.
Her paws twitched slightly as she considered all this.
Her nose lifted to the wind, and she sniffed.
Thinking, imagining, and sniffing seemed to be how she managed to be these days,
Making the most out of her life on the leash.
Part of her was sad with longing,
And the other part of her was resigned to her reality.
She was still fit enough to be able to roam and tap into the wildness she knew was insider her,
While part of her felt too old to have hope that anything would change.
She found she couldn’t give that part of her up.
It was the hope of possibility that made her tail wag whenever the door cracked open.
It was the hope of freedom she felt when her necklace was taken off for a cleaning or a good scratch.
And it was hope that shined bright in her eyes when she met another dog on a leash in the park.
It was hope she felt the day she quietly slipped out of her bed in the dark of night when everyone was sleeping.
And it was hope that lead her out the door and down the street that night,
Without a collar, without a leash, without the watchful eyes of her master.
Unlike her younger days, she didn’t make a break for it.
She took her time, feeling the cool evening air on her wet nose,
And the dew on her feet.
She collected herself as she set off,
Not overthinking what she was doing,
Just. Quietly. Moving.
Across the lawn, and down the street.
She followed her wildness to the woods,
Trusting herself to find her way,
Knowing that when she was ready,
She could return home,
And that the door would be open a crack
Allowing her to slip back inside,
And drift off to sleep in her bed.
Want to hear more stories and reflections like this?
Join me on July 12th for ISpeaks: An Unscripted Evening With Lael in Yarmouth, Maine. Still hungry? My book Unscripted: A Woman’s Living Prayer is chocked full of stories like this, too. And wait until you read the second one I’m writing…
And if you’re a fan of SheSpeaks or want to be…
Save the date for this year’s SheSpeaks, which has now been expanded to be a TWO DAY event, featuring the stories of 10 different women (5 each night) over two days: December 7th & 8th at One Longfellow Square in Portland. Tickets will go on sale —and go fast!—this fall, but save the date now to set the intention.