The old woman told me to my face that it would have been better if I had never been born.
And was I expected to accept the blame for that?
I lost my innocence then—at the tender age of twelve. Like the gush that announces the blooming of womanhood, came the understanding that no one is safe, not even a child in the presence of someone old enough to know better.
At one time our city mayor was a lowly high school counselor—well, I guess to us he didn’t seem so humble then. My one, and thankfully, only visit to his office was on the occasion of his dispensing advice concerning my future. He asked about my plans. I told him. He informed me that I didn’t have the brains to do what I anticipated.
It’s a good thing I didn’t believe him.
It was at that point in life that I came to the conclusion that free advice might actually be worth exactly what you pay for it, and even those in lofty positions of influence might not always know what they are talking about.
Four years later, within weeks of graduating from my chosen institution of higher learning, I was asked to be the valedictorian of my graduating class. Days later, a rather shamefaced dean informed me that the Board of Directors of the school had rescinded the invitation. After all, they argued, the school was trying to attract men, making it inappropriate to have me, a woman, as valedictorian.
I guess I should have been doubly insulted.
So I learned that sometimes even the most godly men do ungodly things. History tends to repeat itself, but it’s that first plunge into the waters of disillusionment that seems the coldest. With time I would become much more familiar with my own frailties and become much more sympathetic to the weaknesses of others. All the same, during those chaotic days I discovered friends I really wasn’t aware that I had, classmates who refused to allow the scions of ecclesiastical power to do the wrong thing.
During the adventurous twenties, I was to learn that with patience and perseverance, even the harshest critic can be won over, and that not every open door leads directly into the next room. Sometimes there are hallways to be dealt with before we are ready for the next door. A hallway can be a humbling place, something akin to standing in a corner except that it isn’t punishment. It’s, well, a place to wait, reflect, and get things in perspective.
In one of those hallways, in middle life—the lower middle—a shock awaited me. I discovered that God wasn’t impressed by my job description. He showed me that I needed to describe myself, not by my title, but by my relationship to him. He was more impressed by my being than by my doing. To teach me that lesson, he had to strip away all that he had given me so that I would learn to focus, not on the gift, but on the One who had done the giving.
In my forties, I took the first steps toward learning not to tell God how things ought to be done. I also learned to tell my mother what to do, and then discovered what a wonderful thing it was to be able to relinquish the role of “mothering” my mother and to return to being a daughter.
“Freedom 55” came and went. I resented that, especially since my brother retired with a nice package at the age of fifty-two. But then, I argued, what would be the use of having learned all those lessons, gained all those experiences and acquired all that expertise just in time to be relegated to that proverbial “pasture.” I remembered Caleb, who demanded the right to take on the toughest assignment possible—at the age of eighty-five. I’m barely crawling out of my nappies compared to him.
Now, on the cusp of years that are physically rusty but spiritually golden, I realize that my battles are not fought with the same naivety as in the spring of my life, nor with the same heat as in my summer years. The fall is cool but fresh, and bright with colour. There are still possibilities to explore, mountains to take, more lessons to learn, before winter comes.
And I have a message to deliver to an old woman.
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