You know the ones. They are the ones who have navigated through long, long years of this living business.
I know older ones of course – many of them. Those who have lived, but still haven’t learned.
The elders are different though. They are the ones who have not been skewed, jaded or ruptured by the thousand moments where the heart stands still, when hope is lost, when days are sodden with grief, when things do not go according to the plan.
I am blessed. I have three.
Three women, all in their nineties.
My grandmother Marion. My grandmother is the youngest. She is 93. She still lives by herself, up until last year in the old wooden cottage we now live in and now in a set of sweet flats where elders circle to create ornate gardens and peer their head into each other’s doors. As is the way in this small town, most of them are cousins.
My grandmother has outlived her two lovers, her two sons, and one grandson. She still works two days a week in the “boutique” – an op shop. And she dresses better than I do. She wears pearls and high heels and tight fitting, dipping bright blue dresses. She has a collection of eight retro white-rimmed sunglasses. She is uncannily intuitive – knowing before anyone else in the family (including the subject) who is falling in love, who is falling out and who needs to be told they are beautiful today.
The second (on the left) is my grandmother’s sister Lucy. Lucy has deep red hair and the innocence of a fairy. She fell in love with her soulmate when she was still a teenager. He was fifteen years older, and although I don’t remember him, his kindness is spoken about in glowing whispers. My mother likes to tell a story about someone complimenting Fred on his pink shirt. In return, he took it off and gave it to them. I tell this about Fred, because it tells you about Lucy too. Fred was the gentle man who made his life’s work to take care of and love the red-haired, kind-hearted fairy girl who chose him. Lucy has Alzheimer’s disease, and though she now doesn’t remember anyone’s name, it matters not – she loves them just the same. She knows you are good. She knows you are family – everyone is.
And the little old lady who lived down the road when I grew up. I know her – as does most of our small town – simply as Nan. Nan is 96, the eldest of the elders. Nan’s eyes are the loveliest of blue, and she likes to ask intensive questions about computers and the internet so she can understand this funny online goddess job thing I have. I remember when I was 6, Nan and Pop left on a holiday. She returned without him by her side, a heart attack having taken her love. I remember the neighbourhood’s children being gathered up to meet her on the bus, each of us holding a rose for her. She got off the bus, and cried, and held us all, then introduced us to the Swiss girl she’d made dear friends with on the bus who she’d invited to live with her for a while. And she did. That is how my Nan is – a woman with an open heart who looks to love wherever she can.
All in their nineties.
They have lost their parents, siblings, loves, children, grandchildren. They have lived stories untold – of miscarriages, abortions, poverty, pain, infidelity. My grandmother told me she once spent the night in prison with her family – because it was Christmas Eve, they were visiting the city, there were no hotel rooms available and they had no money. So the police took them in and let them stay the night with two young children. There have been breakdowns, suicides, alcoholism, of watching children waste away for years from cancer. They have lived in tents. They have been beaten. They have lived through the bombing of London. There has been two world wars. There has been the deepest of depressions.
And yet – and yet.
These women – they glow.
They are happy.
They have a deep and ferocious faith that people are good.
They believe anything can be solved with the salve of love.
The years have not torn them asunder.
They have widened them and smoothed them like a river smooths a rock.
They glisten. They are wells of compassion, of wisdom and of laughter.
They have a secret.
I know other stories, other older ones. Those whose tapestries have warped from the threads of living, have torn and frayed and tangled. Those who haven’t become beacons in their tribes. Those who have hurt more than healed. The years don’t always mend and soften and deepen a person.
I wonder what separates the elders from the older.
And then I listen, and I see.
We drive with the elders.
Without fail, on the drive to the farm, my Aunt Lucy the fairy coos:
Oh! Those mountains! Look at those mountains! I’ve never seen anything like them! The beauty!
My grandmother is more pragmatic:
Look at this road. It’s so wide and so smooth! Such a good road to travel on!
She turns to me and says:
Leonie, you are a good mum. You look beautiful today. Ostara is the most beautiful baby, isn’t she the most lovely thing you’ve ever seen?
And your Dad, he’s an old bushy, but he’s got a good heart, and gosh he loves you children.
And my Nan, ever the heart, says about each and every day we have together:
Well, that was just the most wonderful day possible. I can’t imagine a better day.
And on, and on, and on, these women speak, singing the praises of every little thing, every little person.
Everywhere, there are blessings, there are miracles, there is a universe tending to our million needs for air, comfort, love, support, good roads, kind hearts, tending gatherings and delicious mountains.
And they are the sentinels watching for them, praising them, delighting in them, alerting us all to them.
This is their secret.
As life’s cyclones and storms and tornados tear trees and branches from limb, as earthquakes shatter and quake, as tsunamis wash and swallow, these women, they turn their faces to their sun and say:
This life is good. Just look at that beautiful sun!
I disregard the proportions, the measures, the tempo of the ordinary world. I refuse to live in the ordinary world as ordinary women. To enter ordinary relationships, I want ecstasy. I am a neurotic—in the sense that I live in my world. I will not adjust myself to the world. I am adjusted to myself.
Also love this article on a family switching off… I thought it sounded familiar, then I realised I’d already read ze book six months ago & yammered on about it mercilessly here. Book = Winter of our Disconnect by Susan Maushart. Anyways. STILL GOOD! INSPIRING!
Our bodies are NOT designed to eat sugar. Until recently (about 200 years ago) sugar was such a rarity in nature (only found in fruit or honey…which were both hard to access) that our bodies were designed without an “I’m full” switch for it so that when we did stumble upon it we could gorge on the stuff and store the energy fast. 150 years ago we ate no sugar. Today we eat more than a kilo a week on average. Over a year, that translates to almost 15kg of body fat.
I love seeing amazing pieces of art through ze wonders of ze interwebs. But my goshness, I would so love to see this porcelain dress face-to-plate. It just makes me swoon. Via Designboom.com.
The more I talked with my friend, the more I realized that not scheduling an induction, not having an epidural, etc. was me trying to be good. Trying to do it right… in the “natural” way that people do it here in Berkeley.
“What would a fun and easy birth look like to you?” she asked me. (She knows these are two of my core values) I laughed at the impossibility of it… Birth? fun and easy? Is that even possible? But for the sake of conversation I answered, “I would get the epidural as soon as possible and have a pain free 5 hour labor where I chatted and laughed with Matt and the nurses.” Then that’s what you should plan for! she encouraged.
My body immediately relaxed at the thought and tears came to my eyes. In that moment I realized what was underneath my desire for it to be easy. Although my labor with Ben was great, it was 15 hours of breathing through incredibly painful contractions (often with no break between them). I had to go so deep into myself to manage them that I was somewhere else entirely. My eyes were closed the entire time as I sat on the hospital bed, afraid to move a muscle. I didn’t want anyone to touch me or talk to me, and although at the time I wasn’t aware of it, in retrospect, I see how disconnected and alone I felt. It wasn’t horrible or traumatic necessarily, just something I felt like no one could help me with, something I had to do myself.
The Queen Mothership of All Things Rainbow and Soulful?
This is her:
Instant adoration, right?
The turquoise walls! The vast tubs of coloured markers! That smile!
I mean, just look at this magnificent purple & sequinned adorned woman hugging herself!
What’s not to fall madly in love with?
I remember when I found one of her rainbow books in a store.
It felt like coming home.
Since then I’ve amassed a hefty collection of her books.
This is only a third of my collection.
I would have photographed them all together, but that would have meant rearranging my bookshelf which would have woken baby goddess which would have meant I couldn’t have kept tip-tapping you this lovenote.
So here I am.
I could scarcely have believed when I first fell in love with SARK that only a few years later I would be in some of her books. Four of them, I think! My goshness. Including a three page interview in Juicy Pens, Thirsty Paper.
My heart is very, very grateful.
I’m just so glad that there is a SARK in the world.
This is one of SARK’s artworks.
But all this?
It’s not why I’m writing to you today.
I’m writing to you because she’s written a new book.
A book that feels like a warm hug.
A book that feels like a dear friend meeting you for tea, and pouring her heart and tears out over what a year it’s been.
All the exquisiteness, the pain, the grief, the sadness, the soul on spin cycle.
And the beingness of glad that bubbles through.
I was talking to my dear friend Sone on the phone about this book.
And we both kinda felt:
It’s a very 2010 book, you know?
The year that was such radical transformation for so many.
The year we had to have.
The year we lost in order to gain.
Make no mistake, it is a magnificent and raw and a jewel of a book.
So I sent the Queen Mothership a love letter…
inviting her to please, please come visit us here in Goddess land… to spread her Glad No Matter What magic.
And she said YES.
So we did.
It’s less than fifteen minutes long.
We guffaw a lot.
We were supposed to go for longer.
But guess what?
Something magical happens.
Something rare and brave and needed in this world.