As I write this, I’m turning 50. It feels like quite a milestone. The stone tablet, placed along the roadside, marking the distance along the path of life, probably closer to the end than the beginning. When I look at life this way, as a road, a journey, a line with a beginning and an end, I become a pilgrim, dedicated and determined, doing my best to meet the road as it rises or curves. Turning to look behind me, I can see that some miles were difficult, rising steeply or accompanied by storm. Others were made sweet by my traveling companions or the gentle scenery. I’m not ready to reach the end, but I’m grateful for the adventure.
Yet today life seems like more than just a path. It’s also the rings of a tree, a cycle, a circle, and today a new ring has appeared. If I could examine the cross section of the trunk, I could see that some rings appear vibrant and robust, others weak and unremarkable. But each is evidence of a cycle of awakening, blossoming, growth, and rest. Together these rings make a tree: roots burrowing downward, a canopy of branches and leaves reaching toward the heavens. When I look at life this way, I feel grounded and solid, comforted by the idea that though I may look like I am standing still, I’m providing shelter and shade and seeds. Seeing life this way, I feel like I’m enough.
Today as I turn 50 and putter in my garden, I am reminded that my life is also a compost pile, which might sound disparaging, because composts sometimes smell bad and are full of bugs. But if you are a gardener, then you know the truth about compost piles. Spent flowers and clippings and weeds are tossed in a corner and left to rot, worked on by time and microorganisms to be turned into something rich and nourishing. Wait long enough and you can dig your hands deep into the layers, finding that each leaf and twig has shed its particularity and been transformed into a fertile soil of uniform texture and color that the most primal part of you knows is now your gold. When I look at life this way, I feel wholesome and generous, messy yet lush, and even a bit like alchemist, dying and being born all at once.
Yet today of all days, life feels like more than that. It’s also like a game of pretend play, like playing House under the oak tree with my friends when I was little. We adopted names and personas and jobs and families, imagined our homes to be the spaces between the roots that ran along the ground. At some point in the day, our mothers called us home, and we let the labels drop, slipped out of our imaginary roles, and came back to our true selves. When I see my life this way, I can see how easily the illusion of life lulls me into thinking it’s real, and how often I forget about the formless, unchanging energy beneath it all. The vitality, creativity and wholeness. I’ve spent many years learning how to play the game, win the game, and wake up from the game, sometimes at the expense of forgetting how to delight in the playing of it, illusory and temporary as it is.
As I write this, I’m turning 50.