"My topic is about transitions or the stuff out of which life is made, liminal and archetypal situations. The word liminal refers to being over the threshold but not through to the other side. It comes from the Latin word "limen" meaning that place in between. When you're in a transition zone, you're neither who you used to be before you got into this transition, nor have you crossed over that threshold to where you will be settled next...There is always an ending of one phase of your life in order to develop and grow into another phase."
Crossing to Avalon: A Woman's Midlife Pilgrimmage
by Dr. Jean Shinoda Bolen
2010 will always be remembered as the year I was catapulted into a whole new reality, spent a lot of time sad, a lot of time scared, and seeping in, around the edges, feeling a kind of joy and even triumphant as I've learned more than I ever thought I needed (or wanted) to know.
My mother passed away in December of 2009 after 5 very heartbreakingly hard years of cancer. She passed ten days before Christmas and the world shifted on its axis. I remember dear May Sarton who became a very special friend to me in the last 3 years of her life writing in one of her journals about becoming an orphan at 50. May, like I, was an only child. Her mother had died some years before but her father passed when she was 50 years old, and no matter what kind of relationship you have had with your parents, when the last one dies (my father was much older than my mother and had passed more than 20 years before), no matter how old you are you really do become an orphan. It is a very strange phenomenon and, I think, indescribable unless and until you have gone through it.
Too, I loved my mother very much as she loved me but we had had a very challenging relationship throughout most of our lives, gratefully finding peace at the end, but when she passed the family dynamic changed all around me. I was not prepared for this. I lost a mother and most of the family members I had grown up with for a number of reasons. It was a shock and the sense of loss was multiplied tenfold. My mother was the hub of the wheel in our family and after she was gone people kind of drifted off in various directions. I felt cut off in ways I had not ever imagined or thought possible so that in addition to just losing my mother I felt like I was on a raft set out to sea with no land or people visible in any direction. Later I thought that perhaps we have to feel that alone to truly look inside and discover what is there, who we are, who I am as a woman in my own right, not determined by the thoughts, feelings, experiences and judgments of the people around me. It is disorienting, freeing, terrifying, but necessary if we are to move forward.
In January of 2010 I sold my town home and bought my first home on my own at 55. I was elated, excited, a fenced back yard for my dogs in an older sweet cottagey home in a quiet neighborhood, just perfect! Unfortunately as I was getting into the house there was more work to be done than had been imagined and the inspector didn't quite give a full report or the best most precise picture of what was to come. The toilets had to be replaced, most of all the whole roof had to be replaced, and there were various and sundry other things that had to be fixed that I hadn't planned on or expected. Now here's the thing...
I am embarrassed to say that at 56 my three children, 33, 30 and 27 know more about the practical things of the world than I do and are leading exemplary lives. As a divorced woman, a woman who got married when many women were still staying at home with their children, and we were homeschooling besides, my husband took care of everything. I was shocked to learn how little I knew (and know) but I went from my parents home to my married home and the larger more practical aspects of living in the world were always taken care of by my parents and then my husband. For the 11 years of our separation and subsequent divorce after which I got alimony for awhile there were still people in the picture who helped quite a lot including my dear ex-husband who is a wonderful man, and my mother who helped with a number of things. I never felt alone or like I didn't have someone to fall back on at least to ask questions or advice. So in Dr. Bolen's terms when my mother passed, my relationship with my husband finally severed in any financial or practical way, I looked out at the world terrified, excited, with a great deal of trepidation, and felt, a large part of the time, like Alice down the rabbit hole, replete with strange creatures all around me (roofers, plumbers, and whatnot) and I was signing contracts which I read over until my brain almost exploded and thank God my realtor and best friend were there to help me with that.
It was exciting moving into the house and I do love it dearly and for the first few month just kind of drifted around in a dream going la-la-la I have my very own first house at 55 years old. I loved watching the dogs run and play in the big back yard (okay, the pugs more waddled than ran) and I began planning the garden. Here comes the first big Uh-Oh...
If you look back many entries at the January through March entries you will see pictures of the house, the huge Magic Ship that sits at the back and which I had painted wild colors, the flower boxes I had built (big ones) all along the back of the house and deck, and an area surrounded by a bright pink picket fence for my -- sigh -- English Cottage Garden.
I am slumping in my chair as I write this...
I am a cottage gardener who typically has very large gardens replete with flowers, perennials, flowering trees, herbs all over everywhere, bulbs by the thousands, old-fashioned roses everywhere, and much much more. I had planned to turn my very large back yard, over several years of course, into a little garden paradise. That was winter. There were no leaves on the trees. While I was sitting in front of a crackling fire looking out the many windows of my studio overlooking the back yard my mind went wild as I ordered seeds and bulbs and sketched my dreams into what I hoped would be reality.
NOTE -- AND PLEASE PAY CLOSE ATTENTION! -- NEVER - AND I DO MEAN NEVER - PLAN A GARDEN OR DO ANYTHING OUTSIDE OF ANY SUBSTANTIAL MANNER UNTIL YOU HAVE LIVED ONE FULL YEAR, YEAR ROUND, IN YOUR NEW HOUSE. YOU WILL BE POSITIVELY CLUELESS WHAT IS REALLY THERE AND THE REGRETS YOU WILL LATER HAVE ARE LIKE BITTER PILLS AND HARD TO SWALLOW.
By early spring I was planting like the Whirling Dervish of Seeds, singing la-la-la-la-la as I planted the flower boxes with seeds and bulbs, planted perennial hibiscus, and had whole garden areas mapped out. Mid-Spring the trees started leafing out and I thought, "Oh, isn't that pretty." By late spring my whole back yard was as if covered entirely by a canopy of gigantic old trees hanging and sweeping across the landscape. To wit, I live in a virtual forest when you step out the back of my house. I had a large part of the back fenced with a privacy fence for the dogs and also for my rather reclusive tendencies, but my property extends down to a creek with woods all around. That should have been my first clue. To say that the trees were like a canopy over the very large back yard doesn't quite give you the picture. Let me paint one for you. When I carried my wee little Babs, my precious little pug that I recently lost, out into the yard to go potty because she was deaf and blind, it could be raining (and I don't just mean sprinkling lightly) and we wouldn't get wet. You see what I mean? No sunshine at all. Nothing will grow in most of my yard, all of my carefully planted seeds in the thousands either didn't sprout or were so pitifully spindly before they just up and died that I could barely stand to look at them and kept apologizing as I went by.
Never mind the fact that because I DO live in a forest with a creek in the back in coastal Carolina with temps oh, say, around 100 degrees with 1000% humidity and the mosquitoes are past bad, I mean I've lived in other areas of the country and I've never known anything like it, you simply cannot walk out into the back yard without being eaten alive. Literally. A friend of mine walked out there and he said he had never seen them so bad. We are a water city with the ocean on one side, a river on the other, and a running creek at the back of my property. I believe that my mosquitoes perhaps called every mosquito in the Western Hemisphere to move into my back yard. Even wearing Off or this new contraption you hang on your person and it has a little fan and it is GUARANTEED to cover you head to toe and narry a mosquito will touch you only made my mosquitoes laugh. Nobody told them that the abovesaid sprays and contraptions were supposed to run them off, in fact, I believe I heard one of them say, "Surely you jest." I thought that was rude and uncalled for.
I cried. Yes, I'll admit it, I cried like a baby. With a room full of things to plant that didn't have a chance I was crestfallen. I have found a sunny area here or there and planted a few things but I can kiss my garden paradise goodbye. The whole yard would have to be a shade garden and the mosquitoes would eat the meat right off my bones before the first plant made it into the ground. And I'm not especially fond of most shade plants anyway.
Then, one night, I became so overwhelmed and terrified I didn't know what to do with myself. All of the things one has to know to physically and practically be a home owner -- I don't mean painting and decorating and the fun stuff -- I knew nothing about. My learning curve has been so steep it would make Mount Olympus look like a molehill. Finally, after living terrified and depressed for weeks I finally started getting up and learning things. Bit by bit. I was trying to build Rome in a day and it just doesn't happen that way. And I will make mistakes. And some will likely be doozies, but I will learn from them. And I will get scared again and I will cry again and I will feel despair, but -- but now I know that I can learn what I need to learn, I can ask for help, I can find the people I need to do the things that need to be done if I can't do them myself, and one way or the other everything will be alright. Or as alright as things are for any of us in life.
So here I am on the threshold, still in a liminal time, but I truly believe that if I am still teetering on the threshold I am coming closer to tipping over to the other side. By the time I'm here a year I will have lived through all of the seasons, I will have learned this house, know more and fear less. And there is something very empowering about that.
It can be done. It will not be easy. It will be scary. It will be overwhelming, but it can be done. So now in a house full of dogs and parrots, with a forest out back, and a few flowers growing out front and things coming together inside and my fiber studio re-opened with fiber projects being done every day and a book underway I begin to feel like I will be alright. Of course you might not want to ask me that tomorrow, but right now I'm alright. And I also know that when I don't feel alright that those feelings will pass and I will be alright again.
Today is a good day. I am incredibly grateful for all that I have. I am blessed to have my sweet little animal filled home and the pug snoring on the arm of my chair, and I will just keep on keeping on and follow the road wherever it takes me. I think I'm very near to crossing the threshold and moving on to the next phase. Yes, I'm fairly sure that I am, and it feels good.