And did you get what
you wanted from this life, even so?
And what did you want?
To call myself beloved, to feel myself
beloved on the earth.
Late Fragment, Raymond Carver
It’s my birthday today (Thursday). At 53, I’m reflecting on what it means to feel beloved on the earth. I’m feeling beloved on the earth.
One of the best things about social media is the way that pretty much everyone you’ve ever met is reminded that it’s your birthday, and people come out of every nook and cranny to say nice things to you. Suddenly, threads of the full network of your life are visible and shimmering, intertwined connections and memories and a sense of being beloved, being embedded in a bigger world, memories shooting you off in every direction you’ve ever been.
Today, my mesh was large, but the ones that caught me between the knees were from several of the young women in the project in Uganda I’ve been a volunteer Director of for more than 10 years. One read “To the most amazing powerful woman in my life, Aunt Cate, i bless God for you.thank you for the selfless heart and big love for us. Enjoy this beautiful day ,may the coming years be more fruitful. I love u dear.”
The first time I went to Uganda, in 2008, these girls had shaved heads and no clothing but thin school uniforms and whispered to me in very halting English, eating from plates of posho and beans on a dirty porch. That they would become shining, beautiful, confident adults in university, posting on Facebook, was an impossibility.
I took the day off today on my birthday, and started at the gym, running 53 minutes (to match my age on the treadmill). That’s a long time on the treadmill, and I haven’t run that far since last August. I ran more slowly than 43 year old Cate would have imagined possible. But I felt strong. An impossibility.
What am I grateful for? I’ve blogged a lot in the past couple of years about engaging with the experience of aging, and what gratitude feels like at mid-life. I have a long list of gratitudes that I’m in touch with most of the time. First, a healthy body, even if it’s getting a bit tattered and achy and unpredictable and a lot slower. I have deeply engaging and meaningful work. And I have enough money and privilege and time and energy to ride my bike and walk and run all over the planet.
But more, I have all the people who reflect back the me I most want to be.
Birthdays bring reflection about legacy. What am I making that will endure beyond me? The version of me that is Auntie Cate is making something profound, the 52 kids who have been part of our learning project in Uganda. My relationships with my nieces and nephews, blood and chosen. The tucked-in closeness of sisters and cousins as mid-life has brought new griefs and the need to be the adults when all the uncles started dying. Deep connection with people who have been so many different things to and with me. People who are stronger leaders because of my ability to give them some insight. Words that connect.
At 53, I’m more in touch with the magic of impossibility than I was 10 or 20 or 30 years ago. After I turned the corner of 50, I found my own grounding, my own confidence. I’ve been single, more or less, for nearly three years, and for the first time in my life, being single hasn’t been pot-holed with yearning. The kind of yearning that leads to Bad Decisions. For the moment, I feel like I’ve been able to let go of what the Buddhists describe as “grasping,” always being more present to what you don’t have than what you do. I know who I am and what I have, and that brings a profound calm.
Some of my web of people donated money to our Uganda project today. Trust in what we are doing. Trust in impossibilities. Here’s the link if you are so moved. It will be well used. Amazing how that trust weaves more of a sense of being beloved.
What do I know I that I didn’t know 10 years ago? I went back and looked at my first post for this blog, from 2.5 years ago. It was partly about turning 50. 50 was so much more unsettled for me than 53. Now I feel in my cells a deep comfort with running slowly, knowing that moving is more important than competing. Knowing that looking forward is as much about thinking about how to sustain joy, health, connection, mobility as it is about exploring, discovering. That intimacy comes in so many powerful forms. That inhabiting space with cats is grounding and joyful. That I can hold hard boundaries in a loving way. That most things that beset other people are not my circus, not my monkeys, and I can be here to be an ear without getting drawn in. That there is a great, encircling peace in being alone on a mountain, on a canyon trail, on a bike, on a lazy stretch of a Sunday afternoon.
What do I want from the next 10 years? For the first time in my life, simple more of what I have now. Breakfasts with one of my favourite humans in my new favourite neighbourhood place. Feeling like I’m in sync with what my body can do, and knowing it’s as strong and powerful as it can be. Connections. Working at my best with people who value what I bring. People who know me. Exploring all the spaces on this planet. I dreamed last night that I discovered a new glorious icy, oceanic country between Estonia and Iceland that had a local design store where everything I picked up made me look good. I want to keep looking for the places in the world that make me feel this way.
A couple of years ago, the New York Times made a splash with the “36 questions that will make you fall in love” with someone. During my birthday massage, I realized that you can ask the questions that make you fall in love with your own life.
Fieldpoppy is Cate Creede, who was born at 11:45 pm February 8, 1965.