Today, May 4th, is my 65th birthday, and I’m feeling an internal pressure to share something profound. Instead, I’ll go for something real, which likely is the most insightful truth of all. I remember believing that age 65 was so very old, and here I am, feeling emotionally and spiritually as ancient as the mountains, and physically as young as the hinds that leap on them.
I’m finding myself ruminating a great deal as I reach this milestone, even for someone who is already unusually reflective. In keeping with my nature, it’s the painful memories of a lifetime that flash the brightest. Despite the advantaged starting point of being a White woman in a First World country, highly educated, healthy, and economically secure, I’ve experienced repeated losses and trauma. When I complete clinical inventories about negatively impactful childhood experiences, I rank quite high. When that history is extrapolated into adulthood, my own harmful ways of coping with a difficult past added to the pain.
As I anticipated my 65th birthday, then, I first pictured the faces of those who left or hurt me: my mother, who died when I was three years old; my primary sexual perpetrator who overtly abused me for over 15 years; my wonderful-and-yet-very-impaired father; and others who have hurt or left me, including pain that today is more fresh.
During this current season I am reeling from an astonishing betrayal I recently discovered, which is both enormous by itself and triggering of all the griefs that came before it. (I’ve learned anew that’s how trauma and grief work.) I’m choosing not to share any other information publicly at this time, and I would appreciate you not asking for further details. Please know that I and those I care about are safe and healthy, and in the big picture, all will be well. I covet your prayers for me and for my family.
Yes, these memories and the current face of pain form a sad kaleidoscope by any measure. (Sometimes dear friends have to remind me that I’ve been through A LOT, because this life has been my normal and I tend to underestimate the impact.) Yet on this milestone birth-marker, another intricate pattern is unmistakably evident: I am a thriver.
Although I have been victimized in multiple ways, I am not a victim. Although I have survived traumatic betrayals and losses, including the one that grips me now, I am more than a survivor. At my core, I am a thriver, and I am grateful to embrace that identity.
I wish I had known 15 or 20 years ago what I know now. For sure, I wish I had known 50 years ago what I now know about the truth of my experiences. Yet the lessons learned in these years of unknowing are priceless. I’ve learned to be fully present in my life, which is a gift that started almost 30 years ago when I entered recovery. Yes, being present means that I get flooded with pain sometimes, and it also means I get showered over and over and over with joy. Today, despite torrents of pain, I see the rainbows and brightening clouds and brighter sun and changing moon. I notice the amazing swaths of spring blossoms and am consoled every day by the sight of hawks, which symbolize for me the presence of a loving God and precious friends.
I have learned that no one can survive life alone, and I am lavishly blessed by an amazing tribe of support. After so many years of feeling constantly lonely, today an astounding number of beloveds surround me. I’m able to honor that I built this support system through decades of being real with safe people. As Ashley Woods writes in her new book, Tell Me Quickly – Short Lessons Learned Through Pain and Recovery, “Healing doesn’t come through one big display of honesty, but through continuous moments of vulnerability” (page 4). https://www.amazon.com/Tell-Me-Quickly-Lessons-Recovery/dp/0578851296/ref=sr_1_2?dchild=1&keywords=Ashley+Wood+tell+me+quickly&qid=1619647689&s=books&sr=1-2 At 65, I thrive with rich and deep relationships with a larger circle of people than I would ever have dreamed.
Sixty-five years have shown me that God is real, loving, graceful, kind, and always present, which are truths I first had to experience through God-with-skin-on. In recent years my God usually takes the feminine form of MamaGod, because as someone brutally hurt or abandoned by multiple men, it is powerfully nurturing to conceive of God as Mother. (See biblical references for God as a mother bear or mother eagle, as one who gives birth and nurses and comforts her young.) https://www.womensordination.org/resources-old/female-images-of-god-in-the-bible/ I thrive with my MamaGod and the marvelous spirituality She has birthed in me.
I’ve also learned that I don’t have to be perfect in order to have worth. Like everyone else, I am imperfect, but that imperfection fueled a vicious inner critic who berated me mercilessly for years. At this age I’m better able to accept my flaws, especially when I’m not intentionally hurting myself or others. The truth is that even with the benefit of so many years of healing, I’m still a hot mess most days and probably a simmering mess many of the others. Realizing that I’m being grumpy and judgmental and impatient reminds me that I get to continue growing, continue healing. Although I’ve now officially entered old age (and have my Medicare card to prove it), I’m not done with growth. Today I’m OK with that reality.
At age 65, I know what’s important to me at my core: After a relationship with God, I most deeply value intimate relationships with those “who have been given to me and those to whom I have been given,” as Robert Benson says in a morning meditation I listen to almost every day. https://writingforyourlife.com/robert-benson/ In recent years, I have grown to honor the desires of my heart for connection and for deep bonds of communion with those I love, and to honor the choices I made and make to foster those connections.
I value authenticity and vulnerability, accepting responsibility, forgiving, and starting over. I value courage and integrity, which includes continuing to attend to the demons that nip at my back. (They are my biggest teachers.) I value hard work and making a difference in the world. I value perspective and persistence and gratitude.
On May 4th, this 65th anniversary of my birth, indeed, I am unspeakably blessed. I thrive when I stay in gratitude; I thrive when I prioritize spirituality and connection.
Milestone birthdays aren’t the only times ripe for deep reflection. In the words of Mary Oliver in her poem “The Summer Day,” I invite you to join me regularly in considering, “What is it you plan to do / with your one wild and precious life?”
Marnie C. Ferree