Thursday, May 6, 2021

Being 57

 Today is my birthday.

The sun is shining, the trees are waving through my windows, surrounded by the sounds of the wind from the oceans just a few miles away. It is the first bright day all week and I'm claiming it for myself.

I was doing a lot of thinking about life. That seems the thing we do on the day before or day of our birthday. My late father once told me he had more years behind him than in front of him. He was in his mid-60s at the time.  I'm not there yet, of saying that, but who knows? So I am deciding that of the years I have in front of me, I'm making some intentions about life.

When you are an older Black woman, an educated, cis-het Black woman working in spaces that wants to erase your brilliance for the sake of an empty "woke" and "real pain",  you sometimes stop and wonder what in the world happened. I found myself questioning the work I'd been doing for the past four years and if any of it mattered, after all I was no longer that 27 year old divorced mom with two sons sharing a can of soup for dinner with my closet holding my one purse, one coat, one pair of Black pumps, and three skirts for my job down in the Chicago Loop. Had age pulled me away or is it that younger generations think those of us with a few more grays have never experienced pain?

The poet in the Hebrew Biblical book of Ecclesiastes wrote a few millennia ago that there is nothing new under the sun.

Even being one born just a month before the Civil Rights Act was signed, there is nothing new in this still-yet and waiting-to-be liberation, there is nothing new in the fight for freedom. The tactics aren't even new, the only thing new is technology and the speed at which we can see what is happening. 

So I pondered what all this means for me and my future.

There were many years I put things on the shelf for the sake of "the work." Or for the sake of my children, whom I love dearly. They range in age from 34 to 17, the last one will be a senior in high school next year. Raising them, choosing them, centering them, I put aside some of the things I wanted to do so that they could become.

Reinventing oneself, more reclaiming oneself, is an intentional act.

I started to think about the 7s in my life and how all these major shifts of my life story happened with those.  

7 - my dad remarried and I literally became "the Black Cinderella" as my daughters told me. It was complete with evil wicked jealous stepmother and stepsisters and a decade of torment

17 - after fleeing for my life and shifting my trajectory, my life was trying to imagine my tomorrows

27 -I was divorced, young mom, in a big city, claiming the call on my l life, trying to be that good Christian woman the patriarchal and misognistic preachers told me I had to be while they were coveting my work, shelving me, telling me I had to wait

37 - Remarried, finished graduate school, new city, new house, and bam, a new baby - first girl after a bunch of boys, feeling possible and jubilant and having no idea that 9/11 would shatter lives

47 -Moved to a city I never wanted to be in, working in non-profit, being the good First Lady of a university administrator, waiting to become - noticing that pattern, heavy writing and steeped in raising kids, still dreaming, started a literary circle for black teens, reclaimed words as possible in the midst of protest

57 - Another degree under my belt (started that at age 52), new city far away, seeing possibilities, and claiming my space.

67 - What do I want in the next decade of my life? What am I dreaming of my next phase of life? 


When I was a little girl and Gram Essie, my step-grandmother, was sitting at the kitchen table, I looked at her wrinkled walnut skin, the crimping of her hands, the graying of her hair, the squinting of her eyes, and said "I don't think I want to be an old lady." It was said with all the innocence and painful observation of an 8 or 9 year old.  She didn't scold me. "The only choice then, is to die young."

That brief encounter on a Saturday morning remained with me.

American culture has a thing about youth. It is probably why a lot of Boomers created that whole anti-aging industry with botox and Peletons. I should say, predominately White American culture. There isn't a lot of appreciation for the wisdom of the sages, of honoring the elders.

It made me think about the advocacy, community, non-profit world I've been immersed in for the past decade and how so many of the upstarts want to jump right to it without sitting with the elders. My late father told me we had to study history or be doomed to repeat it. He gave me my love of books and surrounded me with appreciation for learning through listening and being.

All my elders are gone on now. I'm the age of my father's sisters when they wore matching hats and suits to church, hats they milleniated themselves. They were an different era that in the rush for modernism, a lot of the generations behind put aside. We traded the care and quality of tailoring suits and making something for the flash fast of stores our elders couldn't go into. In it, we lost something.

It made me think of what are my responsibilities now, as I ponder the future.

There are things I, like many other Black women, had to put aside for the care of community and for survival sake. We had to, in this America that didn't appreciate our presence or the lives of our children. So the space the artist, writer, dreamer needs to muse, is often missed on us during our "prime" years. 

Or so we are conditioned to think.

The boomer generation thought they were old at thirty, and for a moment, I did, also. I was called a "geriatric mother" when I had my first daughter. They probably considered me a Black Sarah when I had my second daughter and last child at 39. I was still very fertile and made my Black woman OB burn my tubes so I could be finished with that part of my existence.  I wasn't old in my heart, but knew my body could do no more.

Bodies, that is what a lot of it was measured in. We are only young and subtle for a few decades of our lives. That saying that youth is wasted on the young definitely rings true for me.  

My mind is still curious and I still wonder about the world. I smile and ponder with the curiousity of a child when the nature of the Northeast continues to delight me, a transplant to this part of the country. I close my eyes and let the breeze dance around me whenever I walk along the Atlantic shoreline. Discovering what's new is still possible.

Being 57 feels really good.

I've lived through a pandemic and didn't get Covid.

I've moved out of a state that I hated living in.

I've surrounded myself with treasurers of words.

I've decided on my dreams.

Life will continue to shock and awe us, each tomorrow will be new, and as long as we have breath in our bodies, we have the potential to be. 

I'm not taking on the rhetoric of being done, being too old, being too educated, being too whatever other than being too excited about living and what I have yet to do. 

My childhood oldest friend that I met in third grade, one said to me when I was pondering going back to school and looking ahead at the years it would take, "that time is going to pass anyway."  Isn't that it, so why put what you want to do on hold? It is going to pass anyway. So embrace it.

This age means I don't have to ask for permission, I don't have to wait anymore, I don't have to put up with that which does not give me joy. 

Whatever being 57 will entail in this year, I'm setting it as some intentional choices. The time, if God says the same and the creek don't rise, will gift me with summer sun and fall leaves, winter frosts, and spring breezes before my next sunrising and I am looking forward to what all I can do in that year.

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