Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Some Thoughts on Turning 60 by Saralee Sky

In exactly two weeks - on March 24th - I will turn 60. This is a milestone, a testament to the fact that I have lived on this planet in this incarnation for 60 years. What can be said of my life, my time on Earth?

I am aware of feeling deeply, of always feeling everything intensely, every hurt, every praise, every event in my life. I am also aware of not having a very good memory. Minutes, days, weeks, years have been lived and forgotten. Where are those events? Those heartbeats? Those experiences?

When I say I do not have a good memory it is true only in part. I DO have a very good memory for unique moments in my life - special teaching moments when someone or something intervenes and shakes me to my core. One such moment: I am 3 and sitting in my high chair at my Aunt Goldie's house. The phone rings and she answers it. She listens, then throws her head back and screams. No one tells me anything but I KNOW my mother is dead.

I am 6 or 7 and I am sitting on my father's lap. "I'm hungry," I say. "I'm Jewish," he replies.

I am away at summer camp for the first time. I am 8. I am told to come to the camp office and then told my father is on the phone. We are not allowed to receive calls except in emergencies so I am scared. I pick up the phone and my father's voice explodes over the wire, "What did you do to you (step)mother?!?"

I am 8 or 9 and I am sitting at the kitchen table across from my father. My stepmother sits between us. We are having lunch. "Give me a match," my father says to me. I reach behind me to a cubby in the wall where the matches are kept. I drop the book of matches on the floor. I reach down to pick them up when I feel/hear my father's hand slam down on the table. "When I say give me a match, I mean give me a match!" he explodes with anger.

I am sitting on my Aunt Goldie's porch waiting for dinner. I am with my Aunt Betty. I am 9 or 10. "I'm starving," I say. "You'll never know what it is to be truly hungry," my Aunt Betty replies.

I am 17. I just got home from a basketball game (or similar event). I hang up my coat in the closet in the family room. My Uncle Joe is there and he says, "GoodNIGHT, Saralee." "Goodnight," I reply as if by rote. "Do you realize that for the last three years I have always said goodnight to you first?" he asks.

These are moments etched in the stone of my memory. While some of them may seem inconsequential in the sum total of a life, they are actually extremely important. Let's take them one by one. In the first case, no one told me that my mother had died, but I knew the moment my aunt screamed what had happened. My mother was in the hospital. She had a fatal disease and she had just died. I felt the connection sever as I sat in my high chair, and I had no words to describe what I felt. I learned from that moment on to listen to the voice inside me.

Next one: I am sitting on my father's lap. I know he's making a joke by retorting "I'm Jewish" to my "I'm hungry", but I also know that he is making an important statement about his identity, the way he sees himself in the world. I begin to think about my own identity from that moment on.

Next one - summer camp. My father goes on to say that I have to apologize to my stepmother for "hurting her feelings". From this event I learn that to remain close to my father and win his approval, I have to please my stepmother. I stop listening to my inner voice and start listening to her. It will be many years before I can get my stepmother out of my head and start tuning in to my own inner voice again. From this I also learn that adults sometimes expect children to be more mature than they are.

Next one - the give me a match one. This was very scary and is etched in my memory because of the huge amount of rage my father displayed at a seemingly minor event - my dropping his matches. While I kept the table between us and my stepmother pleaded with him to calm down, I realized with great clarity that he was not mad about the matches per se. He had a very slow fuse and this was simply the straw that broke the proverbial camel's back. He must have felt disregarded and disrespected by me for a long time. From this event I learned not to take my father and his building anger lightly.

Next - me and my Aunt Betty. I am an American child of the 1950's. I do not know want or hunger. But my mother's family, along with her sisters, Goldie and Betty, experienced something that they call The Hunger in Russia in the early 1900's. They were forced out of their Jewish shtettle and into Kiev when The Hunger occured. They all nearly starved. This same Aunt Betty would steal raw grain by the handful from the wealthier Jewish family she worked for. She would put it in her skirt pockets and bring the grain home to her family. She told me all this while we sat on the porch waiting for dinner. I cannot say the words 'I'm starving' anymore. I do not have the right.

Last one, my Uncle Joe saying good night to me first. He waited and waited for me to say it to him first. I of course got used to him saying it first and simply didn't realize I was taking him - and his goodnights - for granted. I was a self-centered teenager. I learned to peek out from underneath all the self-centeredness and see others as they see me. I learned to pay attention to the people in my energy field.

As I continued to live and grow and learn, there were more AHA moments such as the ones I have described. They have each taught me something valuable and precious. I am on the descent of my life. I have passed the half-way point long ago, perhaps even the three-quarter point. I do not know how many more teaching moments I have left. Whatever is in store for me, I am grateful for all that I have been given, and all that I have learned.