“Don’t it always seem to go that you don’t know what you’ve got till it’s gone?” The song by Joni Mitchell rings through my mind. It’s like life’s hardest lesson, along with “the grass is always greener on the other side.”
I’m in the midst of raising my third and last child; also about the time I am entering perimenopause. I feel the changes in my body and my mind. And every time I turn around, I feel the pain of the world, soon accompanied by some soulful wisdom from the deep.
Today my son, Alex, told me that a boy in his automotive class sat and cried for the entire class yesterday. Aghast at something so unusual as a teenager exposing his true emotions in front of his peers, I asked, “What happened to him?”
My son replied that the teacher had just informed the boy that the boy’s car was not worth enough money to justify putting in the new transmission that the car was in need of.
Suddenly, without warning, I was feeling this boy’s pain. Tears streamed down my face, and I felt the usual guard coming up – the one that says, “Don’t cry, they make fun of you when you cry.” But that perimenopausal voice of wisdom said, “Let it out. Better out than in.” So I did. I sobbed. And when my son emerged from the bathroom after brushing his teeth and caught me red-nosed, I wiped my cheeks with a paper towel and risked sharing what I was feeling. “I can only imagine how important that boy’s car must be to him and how hopeless he must feel to cry in front of all his classmates.”
My son nodded his head in agreement, “Yeah.”
“He must not have much money.” I added.
“I don’t think he does,” Alex added, “He works at McDonald’s. But I don’t like him anyway; he’s always making fun of everyone.”
Our conversation continued, as I spoke of our good fortune and that our life may not seem too luxurious to him, but to that boy, Alex’ life would probably look pretty good.
Although Alex agreed before heading off to school, I knew in my heart that he couldn’t fully understand that boy’s grief or pain, because he has not had to walk in those shoes. Even so, I felt that he needed to be reminded to have compassion for others in pain, even if he couldn’t relate.
In this personal time of change, I’ve been realizing more and more just how fortunate I am. It’s almost as if I have spent most of my life longing for more (or less) and always wishing for change. More money, a nicer car, a more thoughtful husband, more helpful children, a more fulfilling job – I mean, no matter, things can always be better, right? And yet, as my mother used to tell me whenever I was down and out, “There are people much worse off than you are,” which, by the way, never helped. In my youth, I just thought to myself, “What the heck does that have to do with me?”
I used to wish for a prettier house, preferably one that I had not spent all but eight years of my life living in. (I moved out in 1980, and then in 1988, I moved back into the house that I grew up in, as my parents had moved into new place, and I have lived here since.) The green-eyed monster and I used to hang out a lot, especially when my three sisters all built NEW houses. But that has been ten years or more, and their houses aren’t new anymore and I see now that newness is only new for a short period. Like a new romance, the giddiness and euphoria soon dissipate. And now I find myself quite content with my house. I can sit on my patio and watch the deer pass lazily through the field from one woods of shelter to the next. My drive to work is only five minutes. And we have transformed the interior into one of our design. It is now the house that I raised three children in, the place they still love to come home to.
I could use a new car. Mine is ten years old and less than desirable, but it gets me where I need to go, and unlike the boy from Alex’s class, its transmission is doing fine. But there are times when I look around at the vehicles of my co-workers and the prestige that a new, fancy vehicle seems to portray and cringe a little. I have to remind myself of the decent gas mileage that saves my wallet and the environment, the lack of a car payment, the cheap insurance and license plates and realize that appearances are deceiving. Who really is more fortunate? There are a lot of things like that in life that appear to be much better than they truly are or something they really are not.
As life would have it, just about the time that the workload around the house is decreasing, because our oldest two children have left home, my husband is starting to help out more. But even a day late, I am grateful for the help that frees up time for me to enjoy the activities that I have always longed to spend time in.
Yes, I think I am starting to see the forest AND the trees. Things could be better, but I now agree with my mother. (Is that part of perimenopause, too?) There are people so much worse off than I am. But the main thing that I think I have realized is that it wasn’t the world around me that needed to change. It was and still is the world inside me. Changing who I am makes all the rest insignificant.
Christiane Northrup, in her book, The Wisdom of Menopause, speaks of the veil lifting during this changing time of life. And I feel it happening. Like some glorious and yet twisted gift from the Universe and the chemical make up of women, just when I start to feel this emotional torment that my fluctuating hormones create as they try to make up their mind which way to go, I am blessed with moments like this. Moments that come more often now – when the veil lifts and reveals this most glorious part of awareness. Sure, it is accompanied by the ability to feel each ache and pain of society, but now I let myself feel it, and I feel blessed that I feel the freedom to cry, to let the tears stream down my face and no longer worry about the judgements that are being made.
And as I have released the bar holding back the tears, I am realizing another emotion that was being held hostage beside them. JOY! Yes, real joy. It is fleeting, I’ll admit. But I think that it’s about to make its presence more permanent in my life. And even though I know that this is going to be a ride that could compare to the one I experienced in my husband’s fishing boat upon the rough waters of Lake Erie, I think I am going to be catching a few fish this time.