The blank page is a daunting and an awe inspiring thing.
When I was much younger, I would venture into art supply stores to ‘stock up’, would stand before the row of empty canvases as if in church, silent and somewhat reverent.
Eventually after much deliberation, a few carefully selected canvases would make it home with me. I would line them up, visit them and contemplate. It seemed that no mark of paint that I could ever apply would be better than the slate of possibility which was the empty white space.
That eventual first brushstroke was a marvel in courage and a dirge. The infinite possible became limited by its very beginning.
Now, at the newly minted age of 70, the canvas has been well and truly painted upon. The reds of passion, the greens of new ventures and outreaches, the deep blues and sky blues of boundless possibilities, the greys of elegance and loss and the whites of clarity and starkness, and the vast arrays of the muddy browns of confusion. It’s all there.
What’s also apparent is the inability to see or know how much space remains to be painted upon, or how much time remains for the brushstrokes of repetition (of those familiar and beloved habits of comfort) nor for those wide bold stretches into the still virgin white open spaces, however small and challenging to find.
This bright full but crevassed canvas is another sort of awesome. The fullness that seemed so limited when seen through the eyes of youth, now seems vast. To see, really see the arc of a life, my life, up close and intimate, as well as from the distance of witness, is a privilege that carries its own weight and wonder.
From the joints which sometimes squeal, from the guts which insist on being babied, probably as retribution for the decades of cavalier disregard, to the luminous abundant white grey hair which unwittingly deposits strands of itself as unwanted mementos in every place I park myself for more than a moment, to the lined face that looks more and more like my grandmother with every passing year, to the eyes, which get more penetrating and intense with time, I feel well represented by the texture and movement of this canvas before me. Yet I stand before it in deep curiosity, so much is still unknown.
The future is unscripted even through certain colors are laid out on the palette and ready to apply, there are also new and different specrums not yet combined or ventured; like becoming more at ease with the world as I find it, even through it sometimes breaks my heart. Like finding my way to being less undone by uncertainty, both personally and environmentally. Like accepting an inner sense of both heightened fragility and resiliency. Like feeling the richness of what this life has yielded and taught, conjunct with increased redundancy, both the fear and the giddy liberation of it.
To no longer be needed and pulled upon is to be set free, to fly or to flounder, to feel unmoored or spacious. Some of the most confused years of my life occurred after I closed my formal psychotherapy practice. I see how and why so many work till the day they drop. To walk away from definition and structure, can be both freeing and daunting. At least it was for me.
What those of our generation have to offer back is not necessarily what this quickly changing world actually now seeks. Indeed, the reverse maybe closer to the truth. The skills that I may bring to the table, learnt at the peak of the experimental and depth psychology era, are not necessarily the appropriate skills for a world spinning fast on a technological axis.
I guess each of us gets to decide when it’s time to retire to the proverbial rocking chair, licking the wounds of redundancy, or with such a sigh of relief, to finally be shed of the burdens of being a ‘somebody’. There is an illusion that the aging process bestows wisdom. This mythical wisdom comes either naturally or by hard lessons astutely observed. It is also true and we all know it, that getting old or older is not sufficient grounds for wisdom. For those who aspire to, or have acquired by whatever means some modicum of wisdom, I suspect the more exciting inquiry is, in what context is wisdom best applied, needed, called for and potentially utilized for the best benefit.
One sure place for a goodly dose of reflection, perception and wisdom is in relation to the crossroads that life offers us by choice or by circumstances; be it divorce, when the kids leave home, natural disasters, retirement, illness, loss, or age itself. Then we tend to put the paintbrush down, stand back and have a really good look at what is, and what is yet to be done, or redone in order to feel and be complete and whether even to continue, or not.
Do we pick up the paintbrush again and dip deep into a new and unfamiliar color not yet represented on our palette, do we make bold some of our most beloved but too faint colors of experience, do we paint over parts that need remediation. Or do we say, good enough, let’s take her to the framers, I’m done.
Either way and whoever you are, or wherever you are in the continuum or reflection, of furiously and passionately filling in the canvas or standing back to see the whole and what’s yet required, it is a dynamic time in a way that may not have been true for even our parents’ generation. I certainly have not been here before, and I find myself, much to my delight, ready to both push the edges, fill in some gaps but also so happy to be able to learn to relax more, inside of the comfortable known middle.
I do realize what a privilege it is to be in a position to even ask such questions and have space for such reflection. It is, as a friend says, a first world luxury. I no longer feel guilty for living a first world life, though I am ever more cognizant of its overall impact. This does not sit lightly on my being, as I attempt to mitigate my impact day to day, even as our earth keeps hurtling forward to its own uncertain future.
What I can tell you for sure, among the many things I cannot tell you is that I will dance more in my remaining years, will continue to find the joy in the ordinary. Will continue to be so relieved and happy that I can flip a switch and light my home, turn a tap and have water, run hot water for baths, that I have money enough to buy food, pay the bills. That I love and appreciate my creature comforts, that I can look at my beloveds in all their various forms, be they animals or other of earth’s creatures and be ever more admiring.
The sky that paints her own masterpiece everyday that I have eyes to see, dawn breaking in her bold oranges and yellows, over foothills brown with their first shy winter dusting of snow, like the lightest frosting on a delicious cake, is a delight and a miracle of huge proportions. The forests we walk, with their ditches filled with shed decomposing leaves that smell of soil and the grand madrone trees which never tire of shedding their old skins to grow new ones. The bear who came visiting earlier this year and ate most of our apples, undoubtedly needed them more than we did. The way our dogs are surely getting sweeter with age and play with more frequency and genuine care. So much natural beauty that is still alive and available if and when we take the time to see and feel it.
To have family and friends is a profound gift, even if we are not all together in the same time and place. We still breathe the same air, we still see the same stars, we still dream the dreams of yearning and redemption, still love and care for one another and for the place each of us call home.
I send love to each of you, dear friends and readers, as you too find yourselves moving steadily or unsteadily towards being older, to adding color and texture to the canvas of your own unique life’s portrait and to those whom your life intersects with. Happy New Year.