You might recognize the bench shown here. It sits outside Uncommon Grounds Café in Saugatuck, Michigan. Twice a year, spring and fall, I guide women’s retreats in this charming town. Creativity flourishes in this artist’s community. Chattering minds drop away. Hearts crack open. Writing deepens. All is aided by the surrounding natural beauty of Saugatuck and a willingness to explore our own inner landscape.
This childhood photo of me, now perched next to my present day self, was taken when I was five. My sister Jackie, who is a bit younger, had one taken also. My mother liked dressing us as twins. We wore matching blue dresses on this day. One brown-eyed girl and one blue-eyed girl took turns posing. The photographer tinted the photo and in the process switched our eye color. I ended up with brown eyes and Jackie with blue. In the photo shown here, I returned my eye color to blue.
It feels good to have the correct eye color. It speaks to where I am on my journey.
Child, teenage, adult, and elder identities appear like separate selves. Yet under outward differences there is one continuous essence. Our soul is the thread that weaves these parts into one unfolding self. If you have ever looked at photos that span a person’s lifetime you’ll see that essential self. It glimmers in the eyes or appears in the smile or turn of the head. Something remains the same whether we are nine or ninety.
Elders have the task of discovering the unbroken thread of soul that winds through their days. Looking deeper we appreciate that there is more to know about ourselves than what we see on the surface. Heartaches, joys, disappointments, accomplishments and challenges brought us to this moment. Can we make sense of our lives? Working to find my essence, right down to my eye color is imperative. Yearning for authenticity is part of every life. It’s crucial in Elderhood as we face our own mortality.
Seeing my adult self sitting next to my child self reveals this truth: Just like the oak that waits in the acorn, our adult was preparing to appear throughout childhood. Peace in aging is available when the events of our lives are seen as opportunities we used to grow. Difficulties become assignments with this perspective.
I wrote about coming into life with soul assignments in Unfolding:
Teachers like Socrates taught that we were sent into this world knowing why we were born and what gifts we came to share. I wonder if that means we receive instructions something like these…This is your job, if you choose to take this earth assignment. Get to know yourself. Use your gifts. Reveal who you are. Discover that we are all connected. See you back here when your time is up. By the way, help others. They are trying to do the same thing. According to some, whatever instructions we receive disappear during the trauma of birth.
The soul remembers.
Soul assignments continue to unfold trough all ages and stages. Each of these shifts has a gift and a challenge. Wisdom is the gift of aging. But, It isn’t a given. We must work for it. There are tough questions to face. Did I use my life to learn more about others and myself? How did I utilize what I was given to grow and contribute? Contemplation on questions like these is how we create meaning.
Gratitude is what I feel looking at this five year old me. I know the difficulties and delights that await her. In her innocent face is a sense of wonder that continues to be with me still. I want to say to her, “Oh the places you’ll go.” Using all that she experienced is my offering of appreciation. I can now say to her…
Nothing was wasted!