We followed the Christmas light trail, ducking under imposing blackberry branches and fledgling firs. It was lightly misting and even with my guitar on my back, I felt like a hunter. The trail opened up slightly revealing our destination. “A yurt?” I asked. I hadn’t asked any questions about our destination. The three of us opened the door to a cozy franklin stove with wall to wall futons and a myriad of feminine symbols as decor. I put down my guitar and looked around.
There was a stuffed raven perched above one window peering down his beak at us, a small alter with feathers and rocks and homemade womanly trinkets. (It’s best not to ask.) The small pieces of art and pottery cluttering the walls celebrated fertility. It looked like women had come here for many years to celebrate rites of passage. I didn’t realize such an appropriate place had been chosen. I wanted it to be nurturing and welcoming as we celebrated my new friend’s 40th Birthday. Instead, I was a bit spooked.
I am a feminist. I know all the right stuff about suffrage and justice and women’s issues, about the advantages of microlending to women, and I feel I even have some nuanced understanding of at least a few spiritualities. Women’s ways of knowing is top on my list of good books, for heaven’s sake – and I have had some profound mystical experiences over the years. But, I was having a little trouble feeling at ease. What’s more, I really wanted to give the place a good scrubbing down.
Then I met the old Chrone. She was standing to the back of the yurt, a little hunched over. “Yikes!” I jumped. That was a surprise. She stood about 5’4″, with a dour wooden face and a sturdy but empty look about her. She had various pieces of colorful clothing wrapped around her including a cool Tibetan hat and a jacket that looked like she was in the army. Who knows who originally “built” her or how long she had been there. It looked like a very long time. She just hung out there in the corner peering at us with those sunken lifeless eyes.
There is something to be said for accepting and celebrating the cycles of life. And of aging and death. Who wants to live their lives balking at the inevitable toll of gravity or refusing to gaze at both the before and after of the present moment. There are many blessings to look forward to and much joy and meaning making to remember. And, as painful as pieces of our past have been, there comes a time when you own these as well, and hold them like an old doll you had as a child: tenderly, though perhaps with a little regret, accepting the difficult treasures that make up your life. After all, this messy life is YOURS and as Annie Dillard says, “you may as well be there for it.”
I want to move into the advancing stages of life with humor, grace and without too much whining. (Though it may be too late for the whining piece.) I want the realities of aging to be like the budding friendship I have; wondering what made her who she is, how we might work together to create a relationship, and perhaps even sit down and drink a bottle of wine together occasionally. The Rebecca Riots, one of my favorite feminist bands, quote Don Juan who said, “keep death upon your shoulder; it will remind you to love.” Isn’t that beautiful?
Nonetheless, looking at the cranky old chrone, I couldn’t help but think that if I was going to end up like that, I would take up sky diving in my 60’s.
Thankfully, we had wine.
A chocolate merlot, no less. We opened it, shared some poems and gifts, and kinda liked that midday merlot. I sang a couple of songs. We laughed. A lot.
In truth, we hardly know each other. We recently formed a “spiritual companions” group with a couple of others who were unable to make the trek – and this was the first moment I felt like the whole effort might work. People who form these sorts of groups aren’t exactly the “sweetness and light” types of people. We are serious about our spirituality. And about how we live and love. And oh, the laughter in our little womb yurt was so good for my soul.
My maternal grandmother died in her 80’s. She was a smart, feisty woman with reddish hair and a crooked smile. I loved her deeply. She sang opera. When we came for lunch she had tuna sandwiches on white bread, iceberg lettuce salad, cottage cheese, potato chips, jello, a tray of pickles, and ice cream with pie for desert. Nothing less. She made me giggle the way she danced around the orange shag carpet to the Lawrence Welk show.
That is partly how I want to be remembered, though it may be Bruce Cockburn or U2 I will dance to. Not as the ashen lady in the back who has been there for a decade and needs a good dusting. I don’t know. Maybe I am just not ready to face the raven. Maybe I am still in the chocolate merlot stage of development. It may not be as mature, but it seems like a good place to be. For now.
When we left, I shut the door behind me and said, “I don’t ever want to come back here.” We all busted up.
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Close down your computer and go out right now and buy Pilgrim at Tinker Creek if you haven’t read it. I mean it. Right now.