Eight years ago I was contemplating my next move. I had just turned forty-two and was living in Big Sur, California. After a long, drawn-out process, Esalen Institute had offered me a position as the Garden Manager and I was eager to start a new chapter in my life. Alas, there were too many strings attached in order to make it work. I spent many sleepless nights lying on the deck outside of my hut, listening to the ocean dash against the cliffs, wondering if I should stay or if I should leave. The consequences for each choice would mean an incredible leap into the unknown, but by then I was no stranger to risk-taking.
On a sunny afternoon, I walked back to my place on the farm to rest in the sun. The garden shift had been exhausting and I was too tired to hike in the canyon. Too tired to talk with my friends. Too tired to think. Instead, I spent an hour gazing at my surroundings, memorizing the aromatic scent of the pine trees, the majestic shape of the Santa Lucia mountains, the pounding cadence of the surf.
Remember this, I told myself. Remember this moment, so that no matter what happens, no matter what you decide to do, this place and time will be yours…always.
Three weeks later I left Esalen, but not before I had carefully placed a sand dollar in the lap of a peaceful Buddha statue where the garden crew gathered every morning before the harvest. On the back I had written, I’m right here, knowing that a part of me would still remain in Big Sur long after I had returned to Toledo.
It took three long years before I was able to finally cut the cord on my hopes of returning to Esalen. Three years to finally understand that to leave pieces of myself scattered in the past across time and space was like splintering my soul. It was time to call every part of me more fully into the present so that I could finally move forward and embrace a new way of being.
Last week, Danta and I celebrated landmark birthdays as we both entered new decades. He turned ten on Thursday and I turned fifty on Friday. To celebrate, I picked up Danta and Satish after school, then drove to meet their mom and older sister at Cold Stone for some ice cream.
Along the way, I mentioned to Satish, “I’m really excited about what you told me a couple of days ago.”
“What?” he asked, looking up from his book.
“That you only have to grow one inch and gain six pounds before you can sit in the front seat,” I smiled. “You’ll be up here with me before you know it.”
He gave me a shy smile.
“I know I often say how much I miss the fun things we did when you were younger,” I told them both. “But I really like it that you’re getting older and we can talk about all kinds of things.”
“Like Harry Potter books!” Danta beamed.
“That’s right!” I nodded. Then I smiled at Satish. “And I’m so thankful you taught me how to use Power Point. Can I show you my project when I’m done so you can help me tweak it?”
“Sure!” he replied.
As we headed west toward Cold Stone, I remembered something I had said to Satish a few years previous: "You know what I love most about being with you on your eighth birthday?"
"What?" he asked.
I hugged him close. "Knowing that I'll still be here for your ninth birthday...and your tenth...and your eleventh...and your twentieth and thirtieth and fortieth..."
Satish joined in and we counted by tens up to one hundred.
"How old will you be when I'm a hundred?" he asked, tilting his head so he could see my face.
"One hundred and thirty-seven," I said, lifting my brows in amazement.
Without missing a beat, Satish shook his head. "You'll be dead by then."
I chuckled, loving how clearly realistic my little friend can be. "You never know...I could come back as one of your kids. No...I'd like to be around and see your kids," I said, winking. "Maybe I'll be one of your grandkids."
Satish shrugged. "Or you could be a cow."
Now, chuckling to myself as we pulled into the parking lot, I thought about the sacredness of cows in the Hindu culture, as they are symbolic of the earth. A cow gives and feeds, representing and supporting all life, so in many ways, they also represent all animals. What a compliment from a child who I consider to be much wiser than myself.
Later on, over bowls of mint-chocolate-chip and cookie-dough ice cream, I said to Danta, “From now on you and I will always have the same last number in our ages! Welcome to double digits!”
“Oh, yeah!” he brightened.
What a joy and a blessing to know that as the years go by, I’ll still be here to watch Satish and Danta grow from soccer balls to car keys to high school diplomas to their freshman years in college. To know that every step of the way, I’ll give what I can, supporting them with my presence, my enthusiasm, and my love.
Even when I’m 137.
A few weeks ago I was talking about my trip to Sedona with a group of friends. “Eventually I’d love to spend part of the year there, and part of it here,” I smiled. “Who knew I could love the southwest so much?”
“When would you want to be in Ohio?” Brenda asked.
“I’d go to Arizona from February through August and come home for autumn and early winter.”
Brenda nodded. “I’d never want to live anywhere that didn’t have a change of seasons.”
“Me, too,” I said. “Living in California in the fall was strange. The only way I knew it was autumn was when someone put pumpkins in the lodge.”
“Living where there’s a change of seasons reminds us of the passing of time,” Brenda replied. “It gives you a perspective that other places can’t.”
“That’s so true,” I smiled. “Surviving long Midwestern winters makes me so much more appreciative of springtime. And after this long, hot summer, I’m truly going to enjoy every moment when the days get shorter and the nights are cooler.”
These days I sure am.
Bar none, it’s the most wonderful time of the year…for me at least. Like that afternoon on the deck at Esalen, I’ve been soaking in every single moment I can be outside before the season quickly changes and autumn breezes blow through my hometown. Yesterday I took the time to quietly sit in the backyard, enjoying the bright colors of everything in full bloom, the cornflower blue sky, the crickets chirping all day long. As twilight fell, the air changed and I went inside to grab a light jacket for the first time since last May.
Sitting on my swing, I thought about all the things that have happened in the past several years, things that have led to my desire to enter a new decade with an open heart. I thought about the people and places I’ve let go of, the ones who’ve let go of me. I thought about how the past fifty years have molded my life experiences and how I now want to break the mold in order to create a life that’s more open, spontaneous, and whole. I thought about the sand dollar I had left in Big Sur all those years ago and know that the words I had once written have long since faded into white. After all this time, I'm finally home.
Then again, I never really left. I’m still here, walking peacefully on this earth.