Tucked away in a linen closet is a patchwork quilt my Grandmother made when I was a child. It is a fine work of art; a labor of love. But, it is much more than that. It’s a time capsule. See, she and my Mom actually sewed much of what I (and my dolls) wore back in those days. Each square is a remnant from those creations, and when I look at the quilt now, I don’t see random bits of cloth from sun suits, jumpers, dresses, and Halloween costumes. I see the memories. In a virtual sense, I am still adding to it. As I walk the path of life, I collect little remnants of various experiences, tacking them on in more or less random order with not a care as to the overall design.
Or, at least that is what I did up until about age 30.
When it comes to birthdays, there are a few “big ones”, so to speak. For example, 10 was big. I was a decade old; a whole decade! Not a baby anymore. At 13, 16, and 18, I embraced each of the teen year milestones by seeking increasing levels of independence. By 21, I started to feel like a real adult with the power to make my own rules. I was already married by then, and it was a relationship based on high levels of personal independence with occasional moments of togetherness. No house, no pets, no kids; nothing to shackle us down. The new modern model of marriage – so radical!
But 30 was different. Something odd began to happen in my mind. I called it the “OMG I’m turning 30!” syndrome. In the years leading up to it, I had ended my marriage, moved to a new state far from relatives, and began a new career. At first I thought it was a result of undertaking so many recent changes, but others reassured me that they had also experienced the same thing. For the first time, my mind unfurled the quilt in all of its crazy, random, mind-boggling glory. Had I really done all of that? There were things I was rather ashamed of, but there were also things I realized I should be rather proud of. For the first time, I saw What had made me.
It’s probably a good thing that the next milestone didn’t come for another ten years, because there was a lot of stuff to process there. I needed all of that time to experiment a bit, to play with some of the ideas were borne of that revelation. I married again, but this time I tried the more traditional model: a house, a dog, entrenching my life
into my husband’s. As 40 approached, though, something was missing. Husband #2 was jettisoned, the dog was gone, and the house was becoming a drain. My career had bogged down. My social life was nonexistent. Again, the mind unfurled the quilt, but with a new twist.
There, floating above the random patchwork was a seam-ripper. Over the course of several weeks, the image persisted in my dreams. The ripper went to work, detaching this patch, then another, then a few more. Patches flew around me and re-assembled themselves into new patterns; cause and effect now joined. By the time I blew out the candles that year, I had a few answers regarding Why and How my life had played out thus far. It was enlightening and sobering at the same time.
Today I am celebrating 45. While for some this may be a mere midway point, for me it is turning out to be a bit of a watershed moment. In these five years, new patches have appeared: my surgery, an unhealthy relationship, various achievements and life events. Each time, the seam ripper has gone back to work, arranging everything in keeping with the appropriate story line.
In recent weeks, I’ve begun to feel the mojo coming back in both my work and my writing. I gave that unhealthy relationship one last go, and finally managed to find the peace I needed to close the door on it once and for all. After 3 months of laboring through yet another unsatisfying relationship, I found the certitude to end that just last night. Considering my usual pattern of hanging on long after the fruit has died on the vine, I’d say that’s a new personal best.
I’m finally starting to know what I want for my life. Even better? I’m beginning to believe that not only can I get it, I deserve it. I’m learning to make the decisions that are right for me, to see what is really there instead of what I wish. For the first time in a very long time, I feel a zen-like peace; clarity. I feel like “me” again. This is the best birthday gift of all.
Some older (and wiser) friends have warned me that 50 will be even more mind-blowing. On the one hand, I am glad I have a few more years to prepare myself, but on the other, I can’t wait to see what happens next.
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