At last you knew what you had to do….
Mary Oliver from her poem “The Journey”
Above all be the heroine in your own life.
For many years now I have had a recurring fantasy of getting into a car and driving somewhere by myself. No destination in mind but setting out alone with a change of clothes, a closet full of my favourite books, a journal, and laptop.
I used to think such longing grew out of the need for a reprieve from my busy family and work life but when the workdays became fewer and family life quieter, the longing remained. What’s this about, I would ask myself? This restlessness to venture out without the safety net of a destination or plan.
My longing for a journey took me on a few excursions including a solitary road trip through the Berkshire Mountains in Massachusetts and a three month stay on my own in New York City. The most memorable journeys involved time in nature, periods of solitude, and few expectations.
Journeys nudge me out of my comfortable routine to discover something of value beneath the forever to do list. They loosen the knots of tension, tedium, and habit, to unleash a host of curious and sometimes wild thoughts and ideas. Wild thoughts are a good thing!
The Third Stage of life (that time beyond midlife) is an opportunity to look back on the long meandering path that has taken each of us hither and thither, through heat and fog and rain and snow and back again. Sometimes not sure of the destination; sometimes in circles, sometimes in the direction someone near and dear to us needed to go.
But now, despite responsibilities and obligations, it feels like there is breathing room to intentionally set the course and decide on a new direction in life.
It’s not that I couldn’t do so before, but it wasn’t easy. Life in many ways is a series of interruptions. Women know this. As we plough through the day to day stuff, we’re thrown curve balls regularly: work life doesn’t go the way we expected; a family issue needs attention; a favourite project becomes a disappointment; and by the way-we find we’re out of bread and eggs.
It’s a story of going from one thing to another. Our own version of the heroine’s journey.
Where is that journey headed now and how is it working for us? What does it mean to become the heroine in our own life?
The heroine’s journey gives voice to our story of living life on our own terms. I don’t know the official version of the heroine’s journey, if there is one, because all I ever heard was the hero’s. You know the one:
The hero (usually a guy) leaves home because something has happened. He sets out to do the difficult deed: slay the dragon; kill the wicked Queen; fight disease and pestilence-whatever. Then the hero must find his way home- a return fraught with challenges along the way. Not an easy path to be sure, but in many ways, a linear path.
Women’s lives are not like that. We slay dragons on a regular basis, but it’s taken as a matter of course because we do it so often. So much time is spent juggling, accommodating, and executing a series of contingencies that can take us all over the place. The journey is anything but linear. How can it be otherwise when our lives are so connected with the lives of others?
What then of the heroine’s journey in the Third Stage of Life? Surely this question deserves our attention. We now have the benefit of wisdom and life experience as tools at our disposal to create a wonderful journey that has little to do with leaving home. The heroine’s journey is an arc of creative force reflected in multiple cycles of beginning, living, and ending. Few of them linear. We can accomplish just about anything. Why would we not try?
The heroine’s journey is personal. I venture to say, however, that determining our individualized path can be helped along by:
Resisting the urge to: finish a project I don’t want to complete, offer an opinion that won’t change anything, and check my phone. Resisting guilt, social expectations, and following the rules.
Persisting in asking for what I need, be it better service or an earlier medical appointment; working on something important to me with no end in sight; believing in some one or some cause that needs my faith in them; and moving beyond the comfortable place I inhabit.
Trusting what my heart is saying. What wild thought is calling to be expressed? What do I need to do? Now!
And most important! Be kind and have fun along the way!
It took time for me to realize the journey isn’t about visiting a new place. It’s about what life looks like where I stand now. And so, my yearning to get in the car with my books and go somewhere has taken a pause. I have a sense that what I need to do now, is be home for a while, without any deliverable in mind. And in the meantime, spend time with those I love, write, explore neighbourhoods, and find all the good café’s in the city.
I even joined a choir and signed up for a dance class. If I’m going to make the journey fun, I might as well sing and dance along the way. Trusting I’ll return and know the place for the first time.
This post was inspired by a number of people including conversations with friends and the writing staff at Firefly Writing. I also want to acknowledge Elizabeth Renzetti for her wonderful turn of phrase “closet full of”, and the work of Tara Mohr, and Deborah Keenen.