A Woman Alone: Making a Home for Myself
Gloria Steinem once said entering life after 50 is like falling off a cliff. We plunge into a dark place where we have to dig our way out and find the light ourselves. Or, to keep it on the terrestrial surface, it’s like entering a new country, except that it’s in our old stomping grounds in a parallel universe. We have to re-assimilate ourselves into an already familiar place while at the same time getting used to being stared at by people who don’t quite know what to make of us. We don’t know what to make of ourselves, either. Things are kind of turned around.
When I turned 50 a while back, my vision of the future was indeed a big blank. I thought it was because I’d developed MS at age 41 and this was a natural consequence of having an uncertain future with an unpredictable disease. But now age 60 is fast approaching. Life has carved out more changes since I turned 50. Now I am a woman alone.
Although I’m going to put a feminist slant on what comes next, I defy any man reading this to not relate to all that I might examine as an aging, disabled person living alone. It’s just the way things are. I have lived as a woman, as a product of my generation and the times in which I’ve come of age. I have lived as a woman who is hard-wired to put men first and also chafe at that rough edge of sacrifice while I’m doing it, willingly but grudgingly boxing up my dreams and identity and shoving them in a far corner of the attic. I did it first to please my father and then to please two husbands. This very thing is why being a woman alone now feels like I’ve been let out of a cage and released into the wild to roam as I please. Now is the time that I am my real self, not a fake self that others wanted me to be, in marriage, in the workplace, and in the mainstream. Now I occupy that sliver of the grid where Atman meets Brahman, where the universe diverges with my ego, where my dream life feels more authentic than my real life. This is what I soak in every day, a substance that hydrates and makes the soul supple, much like a warm salt bath rejuvenates the skin.
Yes, I have multiple sclerosis. Yes, I have some limitations and need to walk with a cane. I have a little mad money, enough to indulge my passion for gardening. And I have all the time in the world, or at least all the time a mortal being can imagine having. At this stage, a woman might look back over her life with regret and bitterness, having spent so much time pleasing others. I do that, too. But I also cherish the now in the most basic ways: The generosity of time, of space; the lack of structure imposed from the outside. What shall I do with all this emptiness? Well, naturally, one must fill it.
Next week I’ll be filling it with a long-anticipated dream project. For years I’ve wanted a black bamboo fence as a backdrop to my garden. In the past I postponed this dream for lack of money and the labor necessary to assemble it. But all obstacles have been cleared and now, one six-foot tall by eight-feet wide section of black bamboo sits rolled up in a corner of my living room. Mike, who has been making my gardening project dreams come true for the past year, will once again come through for me.
This little divider will add dimension and privacy to my already lush patio botanical garden. It is my world and mine only. I have been wedded to my imagination for much longer than I was to any person. Lately I’ve held the thought that my marriages were acts of bigamy and the subsequent divorces were merely the universe making right my violation of its laws. Never again will I cheat on my dreams. They’ve been faithful to me even when I was not faithful to them. Multiple sclerosis played no small part in expanding my awareness of this breach. Inasmuch as a disease can bring us back to what is really important in life, feeling gratitude for a shredded CNS is not that strange a notion.
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