Being Real and Feeling It All
My Work is Loving the World, Mary Oliver My work is loving the world. Here the sunflowers, there the hummingbird - equal seekers of sweetness. Here the quickening yeast; there the blue plums. Here the clam deep in the speckled sand. Are my boots old? Is my coat torn? Am I no longer young and still not half-perfect? Let me keep my mind on what matters, which is my work, which is mostly standing still and learning to be astonished. The phoebe, the delphinium. The sheep in the pasture, and the pasture. Which is mostly rejoicing, since all ingredients are here, Which is gratitude, to be given a mind and a heart and these body-clothes, a mouth with which to give shouts of joy to the moth and the wren, to the sleepy dug-up clam, telling them all, over and over, how it is that we live forever.
Recently I saw the Barbie movie. Twice. I was completely astonished that I enjoyed it once, and realize as I write this that, like most things, my opinion of the movie is completely subjective, but I tell you I loved it. Enough, as I said, to see it twice. For me, the movie was clever and funny and touching. Anytime I find myself laughing and touched enough to cry, I’m all in.
There was the mother / daughter theme that got me, but I think most of all was the journey Barbie made to become real.
It seems in Barbie land that everyday is perfect, until you end up in the middle of an existential crisis. “Do you ever think about dying?” Barbie asks. Well, yes, Barbie, don’t we all? But do we all admit it?
I see myself in Barbie. She gets a choice—"go back to your regular life, and forget any of this ever happened. Or know the truth about the universe.” Growing into the age I am, nearly 49, I sense this is the choice I’ve been getting each and every day for years. Hide from reality and pretend I’m not aging, that parts of me aren’t shifting around aging, around having lived for this many years, or live with a deep sense of awareness of the reality of aging—and of death. More often that I like to admit, I’ve chosen to pretend, until I have no choice left.
Amy Poehler writes in her book Yes Please, “You know those exercise pools where the water comes at you strong and you have to swim against it to build up your strength? That’s what the social pressure of staying young feels like. You can either exhaust yourself thrashing against it or turn around and let the pressure of it massage out your kinds. Fighting aging is like the War on Drugs. It’s expensive, does more harm than good, and has been proven to never end.”
Lately, it’s the “more harm than good” that I most sense when I thrash about trying to keep death and age at bay. Getting caught in an endless loop of spending too much money to look a certain way, or working harder physically than my 49 year old joints wish I would, or taking on too many projects at once like I still have something to prove about my drive and acheivements, causes harm. And often that harm is sneaky. Maybe it’s that I don’t notice the gorgeous day, or my children’s laughter, that I’ve missed. Or maybe it’s that I convey to my children, to myself, that any change that comes with time or sickness or injury must be examined through the lens of shame.