Wednesday, April 11, 2012

old enough

Last night, I dreamed my hair was falling out.

I kept reaching around to the back of my head and retrieving long, golden blonde locks. I placed them gently in a box lined with white fabric. I asked someone for a mirror, and I looked at the back of my head. I could see that I had a very bad haircut, and I perceived that I had done it myself. It was strange - all short in the back around the crown, but long in the front. I kept pulling out hair and it kept getting thinner and thinner...I felt incredibly sad, but I kept saying how pretty the hair in the box was, and how I hadn't noticed that before.

It doesn't take a master dream analyst to figure this one out.

I'm getting old, and it frightens and me.

When I was young, I never thought I was pretty, not even a little bit. It just didn't occur to me. I was smart, kind, funny and creative. But not attractive. My nose was short and chubby, as were my legs. I had brown eyes, not blue. I was not thin enough, or blonde enough, or tall enough. I was not enough.

But I was young.

Now, it occurs to me, daily, that I am not young any more. There is plenty of evidence to support this. I am closer to 50 than 40. I have wrinkles and age spots and arthritis. Soon my FIFTH grandchild will be born.

I would like to say that I am OK with this. I used to say that being one year older beats the alternative, which since I can't get younger is obviously being dead. But I'm admitting that lately I feel depressed and panicky about it all, perhaps because even thought the years are flying by, I don't feel one bit wiser. Just older.

When I dreamed of the hair falling around me, and of being surprised at its beauty, I felt wistful for the youth I squandered. Isn't that always how it goes? We don't know what we have until it is gone. I might have even been pretty, once upon a time, but I didn't even know it.

So what am I missing now?

So I'm getting older, so what? Why does youth and beauty seem so precious to me, when I know it should not matter? Like most women, I've fallen for the lie that youth and physical beauty are what gives us worth. The other day my 91 year old father told me I looked old, at least 55. And I let his comment eat away at me. This all makes me so gullible and stupid that I just can't stand myself. For heaven's sake.

If I spend another minute missing the young girl I was, I might not get to know the woman I've become.

I've been married to the same man for over 25 years, and I must say happily so. Together we've raised six children (still in progress!) and have sent one off to Heaven.

I'm still smart, kind, funny and creative.

I've raised one son that worked hard and saved enough money to buy his first car yesterday. My two youngest boys hug me every day and tell me they love me. Every day. My daughters are now wonderful mothers, and my eldest son is about to welcome a son of his own. He can't talk about how much loves his son's mother or his new baby without getting tears in his eyes.

All of my kids go to church, and all but one or two regularly eat vegetables.

Recently, a teenage girl told me that I am one of her role models.

I have a job that allows me to use my talents for the good of others.

I don't need to be young, thin, or pretty to do any of these things - to be the person I need to be. God willing, I have many years ahead of me to understand what is needed of me. I can grow up while I grow older.

I'm might not be young, but I'm young enough. I'm enough.

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

real love

I don't believe in common miracles, and I neither look for nor expect "signs."

But when I receive a clear message - one that soundly trashes the myth of coincidence - I like to share it.

Palm Sunday ushered in Holy Week; my favorite week of the year. This Lent has been extraordinary. I gave up things I had held tightly to for years. In return, the Lord gave me more than I offered, and I suffered far less than I usually do for those forty days.

On Sunday morning I went to Mass with an expectant, happy heart. In a new way this season, I've felt Jesus loving me personally. Instead of feeling guilt about my ability or inability to give up or take on, I felt peaceful, grateful, and loved. Father's sermon, Franciscan in its simplicity, charmingly delivered with a slight accent (is it Irish? Australian?) touched me deeply. It was, as it should be, about love.

He spoke of the Passion as told by Matthew. We had just read it together, standing too long, fidgeting like children. Father told me after Mass that it was his fifth reading of the Gospel for the weekend. You would never have known.

Father highlighted the sorrow of this version of Jesus' Passion, in particular the loneliness that Our Lord suffered. I was struck especially by his description of the Agony in the Garden. I've often contemplated the garden, and this time I lingered there. We forget sometimes that the first blood of the Passion was spilled in the garden. We forget that some of Jesus' most profound suffering occurred there.

The sermon concluded with an invitation to look at the crucifix and hear what Jesus says from it: I love you. His personal love for me seemed so clear, so overwhelming. I found myself drying tears, something I do so rarely. For years, since I lost her, I have shed so few.

I wiped my eyes and wondered at the joy I felt. It was time for Mass to continue; the collection basket was passed, and we were instructed to open our missals for the offertory hymn. It was then that Jesus gave me a sweet little gift, a reminder that yes, He really did love ME.

Pretty much from nowhere it fell into my lap. Did it fall from the pages of my hymnal? From the collection basket? Had it been there all along? Who knows, but like love, it was just there: a pink heart, the kind a child might have cut from construction paper to give to mommy. A valentine! A reminder of love.

Grinning and crying, I showed it to my husband. "Were you thinking of her?" he asked. I shook my head no; "But she must have been thinking of me." I had been thinking of how much I am loved by God. I realized then that Celeste, who was all about hearts and all things pink, was inextricably tied into my relationship with Jesus. She was an embodiment of His love for me, one of the living examples of his love.

I am amazed by his compassion, his generosity, his kindness. He loves me, and all he did, he did for love.