My mail is full of cries of hunger and they are really cries of hunger for experience in the deep and fulfilling sense of the word. If a woman has artificial flowers in her house, flowers that need dusting twice a year but never die, she is closing herself off from any understanding of death. And if a woman has to remain thirty-nine, she is arresting her own growth as surely as if she were a Chinese lady a hundred years ago and had bound her feet. --May Sarton, Journal of a Solitude
In some ways, I feel as if I could have written this passage myself. There is such a hunger for growth all around me, and I command it for myself, so I suppose it isn't to be a surprise. My fortieth year completes in the Fall and I find my thoughts occasionally drifting to what midlife will bring with it. I've stuffed this year full of things to keep me happily busy, and I wonder sometimes if I did it to make this year really...meaningful.
I, like May, have my father's work ethic that leaves me feeling a tad disappointed, though thankfully, not ashamed, if a day goes by in which I don't make something, do something wonderful, make a quality of it, seize it and call it mine. He still carries these expectations, for himself and everyone else, and it's a heavy burden to bear when life begins to slide down the other side of the peak. Those of us who are extremely driven may have trouble honoring quieter days when the time comes to do such a thing.
I see many lists when I'm crawling the webs late at night, of things to do before one has a birthday. A complex array of tasks and feats, which I delight to see crossed off. When I began having children, I decided that making no plans would be the best tact for me. This is the first year, even though it's my third in business as an artist, that I have made a sack full of plans, and big ones.
Last night as I was bundling away, Ivy cried out from her room. I wanted to see if she'd soothe herself back to sleep, but there was a desperate tone, so I went in and found the poor dear dangling from the end of her bed, feet near to the floor and little arms struggling to keep herself up. She was filled with anger, it seemed, from having to hang there for the thirty seconds while I made my decision to rush in. She raged and raged once I rescued her. I can sense such a strength and determination to take care of herself. But I sense, once she's given me all of her big feelings- shouted and growled, squeezed my arms hard and yelled into my face- when she goes soft and snuggles up into my cheek and shoulder, that what she wants most is care. Her personality is one who says no to help most often. But I was reminded again tonight that she, too, just wants a safe place to rest and put her feelings when the day is done.
During the day when she determines to climb on every high surface, do everything her brother's doing, lick the bowl from the top step of the stool, brush her own teeth and rinse them, too...all of it, I see so much of my own sweat in her. She fights, this one. Her independence causes me to do other things besides hover around and adore her all day long, and yet, I got the feeling tonight that she was reminding me that she needs me so much, much more than I think she does. She needs me not to pause when she cries out, but to trust that because of who she is- when she calls for it, she really needs aid.
Her hunger for growth, to do it all seems like the same theory that I operate on when I create my life, my work. I want to do it all, my way, all of the things that matter and allow me to feel like I'm really doing something. I squeeze every drop of meaning and symbolism out of my experiences....and why? Unashamedly, I say that I do this because I want my life to matter. I want to take responsibility for it's quality. As Joseph Campbell said several posts back, I seek the experience of being ALIVE.
It goes without saying that whether we cross those things off of our long lists or whether we sit in lotus for the next forty years, it all matters. Without planning it, naming it, thinking it, designing it, coloring it, teaching it, it all matters without anyone ever even knowing about it. I am learning again the lesson of balancing my inner scales, teetering on the midpoint of my life, while choosing real flowers and shoes I can wiggle my toes in.