What would your seven-year-old self think of the woman you have become? Turning eighty this month is now a time of reflecting and looking back. That is the very question I am asking myself.
Reading from my book, Unfolding back in 2013 was important. It is captured in the above photo. Shakespeare and Company, the iconic Parisian bookshop moment, was a gift to seven-year-old me. I did not realize it at the time. The image of the young me was added to this picture as a tribute to her.
I chose this snapshot because it is unlike all other childhood photos of me. Usually, my hair would be brushed, adorned with either barrettes, or bows. I would sit smiling. Jackie, my younger sister, would by my side our dresses crisp, neat and matching. In this photo, I had just climbed down from the peach tree in our side yard. Authentically myself, I am a bit dirty, my curly hair cut short, with only a hint of a smile on my face.
Eric Erikson was a famed developmental psychologist. He named the last adult developmental task, beginning at age 65, “integrity versus despair.” In plain English, we either make meaning out of the life we have created or regret our choices. If it makes sense to us, we experience fulfillment. Regretting our choices leads to sorrow and discontent.
That developmental task calls for a life review. It often happens naturally as we pass 65, retire, or experience the loss of a loved one. How we view what we recall can bring meaning to our life. Childhood is an important part of that exploration. Often, the challenges we face during those years are the seeds of meaning for our adult life,
Young selves are such a wonder. They are innocent with no idea where their grown-up selves will go. Early hopes and dreams are a powerful influence on later choices. Have we mined those experiences to discover more of who we are? Is there something our younger self desired? Can we see how current choices are a response to those longings?
Discovering a theme or shape to our life is organic. We learn as we grow. I was not heard as a child. Paris was different. I was heard. It was a full circle moment for me. One that I appreciated long after it occurred. My desire to have a voice has shaped my journey. It has given structure to my life and my work.
Can we find peace with who we have become? As poet Mary Oliver asked, “Am I no longer young and still not half-perfect?” If we are looking for perfection, we will never find it. Realizing we are perfectly ourselves is how we find contentment. We are an unfolding mystery not to be evaluated, but to be appreciated.
Eighty is still a time of learning. Life is a dynamic process. Personal discoveries continue. Gratefully! Perched on that peach tree branch, my seven-year-old self didn’t know what life had in store for her. Neither do I at age eighty.
What I do know…
Pulsating energy is what we call life. We experience it from our first heartbeat. Leaves, branches and peaches of my favorite climbing tree vibrated with it. I could not see it, but I felt it. Even when this energy is not visible we sense it. Being in nature feeds this awareness.
Life moves through us. Starting somewhere out of sight, it finishes beyond where knowing can reach. As we attend to daily routines, ripples of life flow through us. If we let go of this awareness, we create a smaller story of who we are.
Our life is a unique expression of that energy. We are mystery wrapped in human form. Our role is to explore that mystery, and appreciate it.
My seven-year-old self would be amazed by eighty-year-old me. She never pictured anything outside her yard. She did not know of a place called Paris, France. Her longing to be heard, is the core of my work. I am sure she would be honored to know that I turned her pain into a powerful way of helping others and myself. Maybe she’d even be ready to celebrate our journey,
Do you remember the longings of your young self?