My SEF (sensational English friend) Carol threw caution aside last autumn to travel solo from her home in Northern England to visit me in East TN. During her seven day southern sojourn, we drove to Gatlinburg and Cherokee; participated in a Knoxville Jack the Ripper Conference; and pampered ourselves in Nashville and Ashville. We compared pristine and unkempt landscapes, discussed cultural anomalies, and searched for places of enduring beauty. Amid rants and occasional raves, I performed ‘right side of the road’ driving, while my friend expertly navigated us through difficult terrain—literal and metaphoric. Though we didn’t know it then, a third passenger had hidden away—and would influence our turns and choices.
For the past year, I’d been sagging bosom deep in a morose of fear and loss—for things I wasn’t ready to part with—auburn tresses, skin elasticity, old friends, family, lovers, robust health . . . . My mantra was ‘the show must go on—not the shawl.’ I was a child of the 60’s youth dominated culture, and a part of the feminist revolution, its backlash, and the ensuing confusion all revolutions generate. While some men experience a ‘mid-wife’ crisis—I wasn’t ready to get in touch with my future hag or admit I was two-thirds through my life. My post 50’s self wasn’t ready to hitch hike on a senior strewn highway.
I had to put this life pausing dilemma in perspective, and reverse the direction in which I was heading. Carol had grappled with the same issues I was experiencing. She’d embarked on a sacred and at times painful journey of release and discovery—and experienced a physical, emotional, intellectual and soulful cleansing—and renewal of self. My wise friend realized I needed to find my own way to resolve my high anxieties. I didn’t want to join a fitness relocation program in Florida; I wanted to exercise my options and restore a sense of wholeness. I didn’t want to be ‘crone alone.’ I wanted the right to bare arms—even though mine kind of resembled turkey waddle. Perhaps I needed to concentrate on what I still had (freedom, desire, gumption, a love of nature)—rather than what I’d lost or was losing. I hoped what remained would act like a leavening agent, from which a new yeast of being would arise.
Carol was a remarkable educator, who had left teaching when her school board forced all teachers to follow a rigid curriculum—that made no allowances for different learning levels, and left no room for creative solutions. She described how she embraced the unknown within her, the mystery of her divineness, and faced the reality of her perceived value as an ‘older woman.’ She reminded me of a phrase we’d both read in the book The Mona Lisa Stratagem, by Harriet Rubin: “Loss is feminine heroism.” Carol suggested letting go is how we grow—though it’s humbling and makes us feel vulnerable. What we lose is not what defines us—it lightens our journey and grants us a new clarity. By acknowledging failures and losses, we release energy that keeps real and imagined hurts alive. Our ability to wear our losses enables us to flash a Mona Lisa smile that intrigues and disarms those who can’t comprehend ‘the measure of a woman.’
We were approaching Ashville via the Tail of the Dragon, a road said to contain over 300 curves in a ten mile stretch, a road that’s soaked up a fair amount of blood during Indian and Civil War skirmishes, and via numerous car and motorcycle accidents. A cloud obscured sun emerged and beamed a celestial spotlight on a hawk that sailed toward a stand of pines. As I maneuvered into the high hills, Carol and I became aware of another presence, one outside nature. We were talking about ancient wise women, the subject of myths and keepers of mysteries. Should I ask for help from Trivia, Goddess of figurative and literal crossroads? We said no thanks to the intense, dark energies of Kali and the Irish Morrigan. Perhaps Eris, Goddess of strife and discord, was more appropriate, or one of the Sibyls or Muses?
The road coiled and twisted; my tires grabbed the pavement, making sounds similar to the hiss of a snake. In unison, Carol and I shouted ‘Isis.’ Shape shifting, twice wise Isis, a Goddess of magic, healing, fertile fields, and 10,000 names, was the ideal wise woman. As a trickster, she can appear in maiden, mother, crone, snake or sacred bird form. One of the earliest recorded Goddesses, Isis induced Ra to reveal a word of power—and took his place as supreme ruler. She fought with her siblings, and when her consort Osiris was murdered, she searched for his discarded body parts to resurrect him. (She found everything but his phallus, thereby necessitating the crafting of a golden member.) Isis had many enemies and underwent painful ordeals, including a decapitation. Isis, a Goddess able to serve many purposes, was called ‘the one who listens.’ For nearly 2,000 years, her deity, her value had been hidden—and nearly erased—by men, history, and time. Despite formidable odds, she endured. What a role model!
How perfect—I’d been perceiving my changing self as alien, no less disturbing than a snake shedding its skin, spitting venom, or smelling with its tongue. My shape was definitely shifting and with multiple marriages behind me, I had occasionally thought of murder and searched for salvageable pieces of past relationships. As for ordeals, I’d had a few, and I too had been called more names than I cared to remember. I would meditate on Isis, this Goddess with whom I readily identified, and find my own words of power.
Besides, having a mid life Isis is better than ‘going through the change.’ On the ride back home, the difficult task of reclaiming my authentic self began—because my crisis wasn’t just ‘change of life’ related. I’d relied too much on technology and material comforts; I’d followed too many rules, and remained mute when I should have shouted. To my twice wise friend, I let go of a few secrets, in the form of regrets never expressed, yearnings not acted on, and truths withheld. She became the one who listens as I grappled with finding new ways of expression. My old journal, on whose pages I’d vented and licked wounds, was tossed in a drawer. I wrote now about empowerment, lessons learned when I let go of hurt, humor, and serendipity. My glass was no longer ½ full or empty—it was under development. That was the beginning of a marvelous ‘do over,’ which included rescuing a pound hound, reconnecting with siblings, and going 98% organic. My authentic inner hippie was reborn, thanks to my SEF and Isis.
I went overboard at first—donned ‘Bone a Crone’ t-shirts and considered simplifying my name, as Cher and Madonna had done. Then I found my groove. The art of aging includes finding loves that never age—a garden in glorious bloom, a child’s awed expression, a pet’s joyful nuzzle. The consolation prize may seem like the comb we receive after we’re bald—because like London Bridges, it does all fall down eventually. However, for the span of time we’ve alive, we are all linked, part of the grand chain of existence.
When I’m older still, I vowed, I’ll wear black—because I will have learned how to absorb nearly everything. My favorite number will be 9, a number of completion; and I’ll favor letters stripped bare like I AM, B U, and C ME. I’ll dress in long, flowing cotton skirts, wear layers of colorful jewelry made from wood, silver beads, and earth gems, and my long hair will be naturally colored (at its roots). When I look back, at the dragon tail end of my journey, a few moments before the closure fairy arrives, I expect to see footprints that indicate the heel kicking, joy jigging, cane dragging steps of a life vigorously lived. One third left to go may be far longer than I think. Carol agreed, and in unison, we stuck our thumbs out the window and shouted to passing cars “graying my way?” #END#