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Thursday, August 26, 2010

A thimble-full of sake

Yesterday, I made a quick stop at home after attending with Isobel her high school registration. As these things do, the registration event took twice as long as we anticipated, so I was running on the edge of lateness all morning. I dropped Izzy at her job at the rock climbing gym, then raced home so as to let Happy-dog out to do his business in the yard and to make myself a little lunch to take with me to work, as I had stretching before me several hours of back-to-back meetings and appointments. While home, I also did something uncharacteristic of me at 10:30 a.m. – I indulged in a small thimble-full of sake to calm and slow myself down. Tea wouldn’t do, I needed the immediate serenity that a slug of great sake offers.

High school. Really? That’s where we’ve arrived together in this life, so suddenly?

Isobel was excited and nervous, and in her excitement and nervousness she was impatient with me, edgy, really. She contradicted half of what I said, even if I was correctly answering her question; she laughed when I tripped (which I do often because my vision is so shaky now); she criticized me pre-emptively if I looked at how one of her classmates was dressed, assuming (wrongly) that I was going to say something critical. I understood what was going on with her emotionally, empathized, embraced this as an opportunity for spiritual practice (Oh, hooray! Yet another opportunity!), but I was nervous, too, and rough around the edges. I was on the verge of tears, actually. But I managed to make it home for 15 minutes of safety and solitude, and a slug of sake. I didn’t actually start crying until I was back in the car, driving into the university for work. Then I let myself go all to pieces. Izzy had a delayed reaction—she didn’t fall apart until this morning, when I woke her up for her last day of work for the summer. She was on the verge of tears, dragging, exhausted, complaining of a sore neck, a stuffed nose, she said she didn’t sleep at all. I had her get up, I made her a cup of sweet, milky coffee, but it was clear after 10 minutes that the biggest gift I could give her was permission to get back in bed, and be a sick girl, and maybe even fall back to sleep for awhile.

Transitions are so experientially difficult, so emotionally complicated and interesting and complex, aren’t they? Transitions remind us of our impermanence, our mortality, the time-bound nature of each human life. That’s why humans have created rituals to mark and celebrate transitions, why some cultures have elevated certain life-course transitions into “rites of passage.” That’s also why many of us living in these times in this culture feel unmoored in the middle of our transitions, because we haven’t a ready-made ritual to grab onto, to hold us safe and give us a framework for making meaning when we are muddling through a major transition.

I’m pretty sure the sore neck can be explained by the fact that Isobel rode the “Screaming Eagle” roller coast several times yesterday afternoon. Though she wouldn’t describe it this way, my daughter created a kind of ritual to mark the transition from summer break to back-to-school, from being a middle-schooler, to becoming a more independent high-schooler. After the high school registration, she met up with two friends with whom she rock climbs – a young man who will be a freshman at the same high school she’s attending, and a young woman who is a year ahead of them at another area high school. The three jumped on the city bus, rode it to the Sellwood Park, then tromped down the Oaks Bottom path to Oaks Amusement Park. They spent the afternoon – one of the hottest all summer – riding the rides, drinking cold coke, and roller skating to 70s music. Ah, freedom on a summer afternoon, the sweet, fleeting freedom that comes when you know you’ll be back to school in a week’s time! But not just “back to school,” because high school is a different gig than all that’s come before. Familiar in some ways, but altogether new in others.

Transitions – big and small - are every where, in all our lives, all the time, but sometimes they seem to be foregrounded in our daily lives and the lives of our close people; our experiences of them become a dominant element of our storylines.

So, Isobel is starting high school. A close colleague’s son is ending high school and preparing to apply for college. Another colleague’s son is ending day care and starting nursery school, while a friend’s baby has become – overnight! -- a toddler on the brink of his first steps. And, of course, there are transitions happening at the other end of the journey: a former student struggles with the discovery that her father is rapidly descending into dementia; my dear Gramma Jewell moved into an assisted living facility last weekend; a much-older colleague struggles with the identity work involved with letting go of professional responsibilities and re-establishing priorities as her vital energy down-shifts.

And there are the transitions that in this culture we’ve come to call “midlife transitions.” (I’ll point out that while “midlife transition” has become part of the cultural vernacular, we’ve yet to create shared, common practices for ritualizing the transitions of mid- and later-life. This is a bunny-trail I’ll not go down right now, though perhaps it would make a great topic for discussion!) This summer, I finally admitted that I’m dwelling somewhere in the vicinity of the middle, chronologically speaking, but also in terms of where I’m situated in relationship to my family members. I heard myself say to a colleague, “I guess there’s no denying I’m in my mid-life.” I am muddling in the middle, in the middle of the muddle, and to greater and lesser degrees so too are my generational comrades; but in this case, I shall only speak about the particulars of my own experience, which, right now, have a lot to do with embodiment, or, more precisely, how to live creatively and with vitality in the body I have which is often in quite a lot of very distracting pain.

That’s enough for now, maybe soon I’ll write more, because right now I’m finding my attention arrested by the glorious being that is my 14-year-old, soon-to-be high school Freshman. This isn’t only her transition; after all, it is our transition, as we’ve journeyed here together.

So, it also occurs to me that this experience offers me a great opportunity for engaging in a little intentional aging practice! I’ve decided to leave the musing about the rapidity with which time flies by to my dreaming-mind; the dreams I’ve had the past two nights have been pretty wild, let me tell you! And I’ve also decided to invite my mind back to the present each time it casts itself into the future – say, four years from now, when Isobel is getting ready to go off to college. It doesn’t get me any where good to deny these thoughts about the past and the future, but dwelling in them overly-much distracts me from the exquisiteness of being here, now, with Isobel, as she prepares for the next leg of her life journey. Dwelling here, now, clears some space in my mind so that I can begin to dream about little ways to ritualize this transition, and all the others, big and small and in-between, as well.

Perhaps this little essay is part of my ritual-making for this shared turning-point.


Joe Bertagnolli said...

You have been hitting beautiful, soaring homers here of late, dear Jennifer. I especially like the connection drawn between mindful spiritual practice and the thematic principle of intentional aging. It all somehow seems especially critical when our children are in their high school teen years-- the last big chapter of just being kids at home. Thank you for inspiring me just as I prepare to welcome home my teen after his five weeks working in the Northwest Youth Corps. Indeed, I'll aspire to mindfully savor our "catching up" conversations in these last days of summer break between this weekend and when the first day of school dawns.

And hey, by the way... Where did you get the delicious sake? ;)

Melanie Booth said...

I am a big fan of "ritualizing" transitions - happy and sad ones, easy and challenging ones. From the benign "Friday Night Burrito Night" that my family celebrates as we move from work-week to work-weekend, to the more significant acknowledgment of my parents' 45th wedding anniversary and transition into another year, together ... we acknowledge and celebrate the spaces that are in-between. It is in these very in-between spaces that I often grow the most. I plan to continue that trend.