The thing with feathers, that perches in the soul…

My experience so far has been that each decade of my life has been an improvement over the last. I’m better at being and managing myself as time goes on, better at steering around potholes BEFORE they bend the rim of my tires.

muddy dogI’m better at avoiding the relationships that will end up with me in the financial and emotional ditch, covered in mud, too tired to try to climb out yet again.

I’m better at detaching from great excesses of emotion–wild highs or despairing lows–without for a moment detaching from the bread and butter feelings of happiness, sadness, or discontent. In a paradoxical sense, this has freed me to be more passionate about the things that give me pleasure (writing!) or offend my sensibilities (that’s another post entirely).

pleased wiff myselfsingle roseI’m more in control of my time and energy. I’m less plagued by others’ expectations of me. I’m spending more time around the people I enjoy, and less around the people I don’t. I’m happier and more free.

And these gifts have befallen me without my making conscious goals out of any of it. Maybe this is grace, maybe this is the blessing of time, maybe it’s waning hormones, maybe it’s a pair of rose colored glasses that will hit the floor and shatter in another couple years.  For now, as we stand at a point in the year when one season is yielding to another (and here comes my favorite time of year), I’m just plain grateful.

If you’d told me twenty years ago, that I was coming up on a time in life when I could do mostly what I wanted to do for half the work week, have mostly the people in my life whom I enjoyed tremendously, have all my material needs met, and look forward to each day… I would have wondered what I had to do to make all that happen.

People ask me why my books have children in them, but it’s also worth pondering why I have the occasional mature characters–Their Graces, Aunt Ariadne, the old duke and duchess. Maybe this is why: Because later in life comes a vindication of hopes you never knew you had, horsecatthat someday your hard work and determination would pay off. In confidence, in competence, in tolerance and understanding.

And that vindication gives you the courage to keep hoping, for yourself, for your species, for your planet. It’s as Elizabeth Thompson quoted on my Facebook page this week, “Come along, grow old with me. The best is yet to be…”

What gifts has time bestowed on you that your forgot to ask for? What insights have you gained about yourself over time, or about how to keep yourself out of trouble?

To one commenter, I’ll send an $25 Amazon gift card.




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34 comments on “The thing with feathers, that perches in the soul…

  1. Oh, to be strong is the very gift. I married very young, 20. My family-in-law were the very manipulative. I’ve suffered their meddling and gossips for so long.
    Over the years, I’ve become stronger and wiser in my talk, emotions, and in my perceptions to them. I built walls and initiated redlines they would never dare to breach.

  2. In the last month, I’ve discovered that I’m nicer than old friends used to tell me I was. I can still turn on a dime and rip you up. So, occasionally my kindness is a a very conscious choice I make (though sometimes I’ll pick a fight just for the fun of it).

    In the last year or two, I’ve learned that tomorrow really is another day and if it didn’t get done today, it will get done the next day or the next. I had a bracelet made a couple of years ago and it says “It will all be okay in the end. If it’s not okay, it’s not the end.” Sometimes you just trudge on hoping for the end and then you’re pleasantly surprised when you get there. And sometimes you count the days to the next holiday.

    • It occurs to me, Sabrina, that in the past couple years, you’ve hit some emotional/physical endurance and strength milestones other people would never dream of pursuing on their strongest days. That has to make a difference in how you go on–from a place of strength and confidence you probably didn’t know as a younger woman.

      Go, you!

      • And you’ve seen a lot of it happen haven’t you? 🙂

        But I think you nailed it with “confidence.” I think I’ve really developed the confidence to just be me and do things that I never would have done before.

  3. Brava, Grace! Your journey and your rumination on lessons learned are an inspiration. I hope I am growing older with similar grace.

    I am sure I must have asked for courage over the years, but it still sometimes comes as a surprise that I am growing in courage — the courage to speak up, to defend my beliefs, to try something new, to do what is right for me, yet all in a way that still allows me to listen to and to honor someone else.

    Insight? Having endured enough struggles, demons, and griefs of my own, I remind myself when someone else is lashing out that I can have no idea of their struggles, demons, and griefs… and to have compassion. I might still feel hurt, but if I can remember to assume the best instead of the worst, I can move forward for myself and perhaps, with a little luck, offer a kindness that will help the other person in his or her need. I can try, anyway. (Maybe this is why I adore the Windhams collectively so very much — they all seem to have learned this and try to practice it often.)

    • I tell myself frequently, “The water’s high everywhere.” I first heard it from an old carpenter who’d spent most of his life in the same valley, but it’s wisdom. If I’m having a tough time, chances are, the person I’m yelling at has had a tough time too… and yelling seldom makes that high water recede.

      • This whole exchange describes practically perfectly. So I add my “amen” as well as my admiration for all your wisdom.

  4. I take more time for the things I enjoy in life. I am very happy with who I am and most of the time could care less what others think of me. I thought my 40’s were great, but I think my 50’s are going to be even better.

  5. I do so enjoy your comments Grace, but dear gosh – you make me think! At this place in my life – it’s interesting. My goal (non professional but more important) used to be _ the old Moe Bandy song “Let me see my children grow to see what they become, please don’t let that cold wind blow till I’m too old to to die young—-” Well mission accomplished! So proud of my beloved two grown adults and the one and only 15 yr old Grandson! So this year having survived and shaken off Breast Cancer – I am facing a need for new challenges! Don’t know What they will be yet but hopefully I will figure it out soon. I do Drama Free these days, and pretty much only deal with the folks that I want to also…It is a nice way to be, however I got here..

    Thanks again, and looking forward to the new book….

    • Georgie, cancer survivors have a direct tap on the wisdom pipeline. A dawn meeting with death shakes out the chaff like nothing else, and according AARP, the cancer survivors are the aging population that does NOT have to deal with depression. Glad you came out the winner.

      Drama free, regret free, blame free… sounds like somebody I’d want to call a friend!

    • Mary Jo, I’ve often wondered if the blogs aren’t the best of my writing. I love the stories, of course I do, and the two kinds of writing feed each other, but there’s a lot less pen name in what goes into the blogs. Might have Kindle Single ’em, or something.

      • Your blogs are one of the highlights of my week and I often find myself telling other people to come and read your blogs, even if they have no idea who you are.

  6. Oh Grace, you do make one think. I know that I am not as afraid of being alone anymore, which probably means I am not so dependent on people as I used to be. I know I still have a ways to go in that department, but it is much, much better than it was 15 years ago. I also don’t cry as much as I used to. Everything used to make me cry, whether it was happy tears, sad tears, frustrated tears and angry tears. I honestly think having my boys toughened me up. I realize that I can do more than ever thought I was capable of doing. And one of the biggest things is that I have become more accepting of people from all other walks of life. A little love and grace goes a long way.

    • Sarah, I forget where I came across the idea that a woman can love three ways–as a girl, all open-hearted and dewey-eyed; as a woman, passionately, and determinedly, even possessively; and as an old woman. The love of the old woman is the toughest, the hardest to scare, shake, threaten or dissuade. She has been honed by life into something nearly indestructible when it comes to loving.

      I want to be able to love like all three–at the same time!

  7. Very insightful, Grace. I have realized over the years, that I have become much more tolerant and patient than I was in my “younger” years. I have come to see that not all things in life are going to go the way I planned, but I can make the best of what life has handed me and be happy with it!

    • Sharon, I think that trend, toward compassion and patience, is a hopeful thing in a world tempted to intolerance. An aging population becomes and asset, a reservoir of good sense and tolerance when we need both so badly.

    • Agreed, Vanessa, and sometimes, the kindest thing we can do is keep our big mouths shut.

      My sister was carrying her fourth when I turned up pregnant without benefit of matrimony, and my sister is a pious woman. I expected to get a lecture from her about my bad judgment, and the consequences to my child for my impulsive self-indulgence, and blah, blah, blah.

      My sister instead told me that being a single mom, I was especially entitled to cut loose the people who offered judgment instead of support, and to take the very best care of myself I could.

      Wow. Just… wow. That bit of kindness when I was expecting something very different was magnificent, and 25 years later, I still love her for it.

  8. The year 2003 is the year that I would like to erase from my memory; however, without the events of that time I would not be the same person. I was 7 months pregnant when I found out that my unborn son had several heart defects and would need multiple surgeries in his first year and throughout his life. That very week my hubby was laid-off from his job. Yeah. Imagine my panic. To make a long story short, my son needed surgery at only 9 days and did not make it through the 8 hour ordeal. I learned what was once “important” to me no longer mattered. I also learned that I no longer take any chances with important things (we thought that my son’s 75 percent chance were good odds). I learned that the people I could count on are not my relatives (and my hubby’s were even worse!). I learned that it’s okay to lean on others and ask help. I also learned the difference between sympathy and empathy, and with that I became more empathetic. I know for certain that I would not have learned any of this without the unfortunate circumstances that lead to it.

    • Oh, Sandy. Is there a greater heartache than losing an infant child? No, there is NOT. Your baby left you with gifts though, gifts of compassion and discernment, others would not have had the courage to acknowledge. It’s so much easier to be small and bitter, to stop living along with the child you lost.

      I am so sorry for your loss, and so sorry family couldn’t be family to you when you needed them most.

      And yet, you are like all those beautiful Christopher Wren churches that would never have been built, but for the Great Fire of London. The gift remains when the worst of the loss has eased.

  9. I can honestly say that I have always been an impatient person. That all changed when I became a mother. My son was born with a defect that we were not aware even existed. It’s called Amniotic Band Syndrome and it caused his left hand to not develop. I had to step up and fight for my son to get all the help he could get. Then when he was 5 he was diagnosed with Asperger’s Syndrome which is a form of Autism and ADHD. Needless to say I had to start my fight all over again. I had no idea that I could be so strong and be so relentless in the pursuit of help for my son. I am proud of my myself in the fact that I didn’t take NO for an answer.

    • Sheryl, my daughter was the absolute making of me as a human being. I know that’s not supposed to be a kid’s job, but I was all up in my head, living a short distance from my body, and far too invested in the opinion of the opposite sex.

      One little baby came along and got all that sorted out in SHORT order. My priorities became unmistakeably clear, and a lot healthier for me, because I couldn’t let her down. Where would we be without the insights and abilities shown to us by our parenting challenges?

  10. I’ve learned over time to just let the little things go, worry about the big things for a short while and then make a decision and move on, and there is more to life than your job. I let go of my stressful job with lots of responsibility and got one where I’m only responsible for me and I answer to no one but my boss, it’s made all the difference and the money and benefits is actually better. That is the best thing I ever did for myself and I’m so glad I did.

    • Lately, Barbara, I’ve been asking authors who’ve quit their day jobs if they have any regrets. Uniformly, the answer is, “I wish I’d done this sooner…”

      It gives me insight into what men live with, if I can over-generalize for a moment. We hang onto jobs that don’t fit us well, because… well, because that’s what you do with a job, any job. You don’t quit, you don’t expect a bed of roses, you don’t turn up your nose at a steady paycheck…

      Glad you moved on–it’s often the healthiest thing we can do for ourselves AND the people we care about.

  11. I have learned that life and people respond to you as you respond to them. If you are bitter and see the dark, only the dark comes back. If you seek the light, and offer up a smile, smiles come back. I believe that “Vocation is the place where our deep gladness meets the world’s deep need.”(Buechner) We are all stronger than we know, and we can actually choose to seek what gives us joy, to seek our true vocation. As a breast cancer survivor, I learned that life is too short to go through it with your jaw clenched – let it go and live joyfully.

  12. Time has taught me to actively choose joy. I spent most of my twenties involved with a man who stressed me out, made me sad, and generally made me feel bad about myself. I chose that life, until one day I just didn’t anymore. It took me months and miles of separation to realize that the fluttery feeling in my heart was joy and that I felt lighter and brighter because my solar plexus, my heart, my spirit, myself wasn’t tied up in knots anymore. I remember very vividly that moment, getting on the interstate after work, seeing the trees and the beautiful blue sky, and being aware of this strange new feeling of pure happiness. Now I choose joy and love. This is not to say that I’m not sad or angry anymore, quite the contrary, but I chose to work through those feelings towards my personal state of grace.

    I’m eternally hopeful that joy and love will fill my life wherever I go and that I can do my part to fill the world with joy and love in return.

  13. That was a beautiful post, Grace! It really made me think. I’m only 22, but sometimes I feel so darn old and that I’m doing everything wrong. After college, I spent a year doing something I loved but wasn’t very good at, and then switched it up and now I am happy with what I’m doing and everything feels so right. I think it really takes messing up and trying new things out to figure out what is RIGHT for you.

  14. I love that all of these wisdoms have come to you as you have lived through each decade of your life. For me, now in my fifties, I give more thought to what I say and do. When I was younger, that didn’t happen. I love the stage of the game I am in now and I plan to look ahead with each step I take. Behind me is over so step by step, full steam ahead!

  15. Time has brought me wisdom to recognize the gifts that I already have been blessed with. I hope and pray I act accordingly. Thanks for a thoughtful post.