Do you know what I’ve discovered? There are 7 major transitions in life, barring a religious conversion, barring any unforeseen mayhem such as war or the world coming to an end, or barring Jesus coming back sporting a T-shirt that says: “Listen up everybody—I’m back and I’m majorly pissed!” IMHO there is:
- Having children
- Menopause/male mid-life crisis
- Becoming empty nesters
I’ve completed the first five transitions, and I have two more weeks to go before I exit stage left and enter transition #6 from my job of 14 years that I really enjoy. It has been interesting watching the reaction of my co-workers to my retirement announcement:
“Listen up, everybody, I’m blowin’ this Popsicle stand, and I’m going to become an entity!”
Each person starts with the same opening line: “Gosh, you’re so lucky, and I’m so jealous—I’ve always wanted to become an ‘entity.’ What exactly is an entity?” They go on to ask: “Are you excited?” Then I watch their eyes widen and the inside voice of their thought-bubble say to their souls: “I sure hope she knows what the fuck she’s doing, because she’ll never get another job like this. She can’t possibly have enough money to retire at such a young age; what in the hell will she do in the future—work at Wal-Mart?” Their outside voice says: “Anyway, you can always get a job somewhere if the writing thingie doesn’t work out.” Their personal fear of the unknown is palpable.
To resist being pummeled by their fear, I remembered two things:
- I’m younger looking than I really am (thank God, Black don’t crack!), so I don’t have as long on this Earth as they think. In other words, time is of the essence.
- Transitions—from birth to death—are only for the learning, not the be-all or end-all of the journey. I know this because I’ve been through five other transitions—none of them was the destination—all of them were my personal journey of spiritual growth.
So I go to my happy place which is usually repeating the courageous lyrics of some well-worn spiritual (“Didn’t my Lord deliver Daniel—then he will deliver poor-ass me”) or a country music tune (Donald Alan “Don” Schlitz, Jr’s “The Gambler,”), and I try to propel my spirit away from their anxious auras:
“You got to know when to hold ’em, know when to fold ’em,
Know when to walk away, know when to run.
You never count your money when you’re sittin’ at the table,
There’ll be time enough for countin’ when the dealin’s done.”
But being asked the same question in the same manner, day after day, will start to wear down the nerves of Jesus, and before you know it, fear begins to seep in—other people’s fear. Consequently, I started thinking about all the rejection notices I’ve already received for my manuscript, how the publishing industry is dying, how even if you get published your book will most likely languish on the shelves, how there is already a plethora of opinionated black women on the scene dispensing “Mother-Earth” advice to the culture (Oprah, Whoopi, Wendy, Iyanla), and the Supreme Court has ruled that we can only have four such black women like this flooding the airwaves with their opinions at any given time. (Just kidding, trolls; save your hate mail!) All these realities make me want to run back into the comforting arms of my employer and beg to be kept on until I’m 102 doing anything, even if my soul shriveled up in the process. That would be safe; that would be predictable.
And when I am awash in the worries of others, I become a cast member in my own “Amazing Race” episode, and I start to dream. Two nights ago I dreamt that WW (my husband) and I were stranded in the hinterlands of Alaska (if you knew me, you’d know that being stranded in Alaska would be my definition of Hell—especially if Sarah P. was anywhere within 100 miles of me). We were told by some amorphous voice, which sounded suspiciously like Sarah Palin’s, that the only way to get to our next destination was to pilot our own plane out of there. There was only one problem: neither one of us had ever flown a plane before. Also, the rules stated that we could not both fly in the same plane—each person had to pilot their own aircraft. After much consternation, a retired old WWII pilot volunteered to help WW fly his plane since it was bigger and more complicated (a 12-seater that was won by a coin toss that could make it all the way to New York City). I was given a 7-seater plane (all they had left) that could just make it to Seattle, but if I lived I could hop on a commercial flight to New York. WW’s plane took off first and after a lot of spinning around on the tarmac like a dog chasing its tail, I managed to get my plane aloft. I watched WW’s plane scale the high mountain in front of us, but no matter what I did, no matter how I maneuvered, no matter how much I cried and prayed, I couldn’t pull my plane up high enough to fly over the mountain. To say I lost the nightmare game would be an understatement.*
Shaken, but not deterred, I went to work the next day determined to shake off the fear-fest that I kept running into. After all, I knew that the remarks from my co-workers were made out of genuine concern for me as well as the thought of what they too would someday have to face. All my “counselors” could hear the voices of their mothers and fathers decades ago saying to them as they went off to college: “Pick something to study and an occupation that you can make money from, not something that tickles your fancy. Tickling your fancy won’t pay the bills, young lady.”
But that night, I dreamt again. This time it was about Death. I had skipped retirement completely and was now headed to the great beyond—whether Heaven or Hell, I could not tell.
ME: Excuse me, please, where am I?
DEATH: For lack of a better word: Purgatory.
ME: How can that be? I’m not Catholic. I don’t believe in Purgatory. In my belief system, I go straight to the top.
DEATH: Seriously? Did you ever think you might be wrong?
ME: Hell, no! What’s the point in having a religion if you might be wrong?
DEATH: Oh, this is sweet! This will be a good one for my blog titled, “Another one bites the dust and is surprised to find out she didn’t have all the correct answers”!
ME: You have a blog? Does the whole damn world AND the underworld have bloggers?
DEATH: Does a bear shit in the woods?
ME: Fine, Mr. Smart-Ass! Can you at least tell me what I’m doing here? I had no warning, and I don’t even remember going through transition 6: retirement.
DEATH: Warning? Your entire life was a warning that I’d be dropping by at some point. You knew transition #7 was coming—it waits for no man. My orders were to pick up a mouthy, slightly chunky, blinged-out diva who was retiring in a couple of weeks, but whose time had come to an end.
ME: That’s the point. My time didn’t come to an end. I never got to retire. I didn’t get my book published, and I didn’t become a humorous, joy-spewing, life-enforcing motivational speaker. Look at all the millions of people I didn’t get to encourage in their life’s journey. You interfered, you S.O.B!
DEATH: Hey, hey, hey—don’t blame me. From what little I could see, you got all wrapped up in other people’s fears and “what ifs,” and you got frozen in place due to fear of the unknown and the naysayers. You thought you could take protected incremental steps rather than leaping with full abandonment into the great unknown to explore the rest of your pathetic little life. You assumed you had more time than you did—big mistake—huge!
ME: You mean I should have exited the stage when first given the opportunity?
DEATH: Yep, stage left no less.
ME: Would I have reached my goals?
DEATH: How the fuck would I know? My name’s Death, not God Almighty. Speaking of which, you’re being summoned to give an account of your life. Get that spirit moving, because its best not to keep the powers that be waiting.
I am discovering that I’ve always known when to “exit stage left” at any given point in life—most people do, but not everybody listens to that still small voice in their inner being. And the couple times that I have ignored that instinct and overstayed my welcome, those times have been my most regrettable mistakes and time wasted that I’d love to take back again. It takes a lot of courage to move on to the next level and walk into the unknown, but refusing to do so is not living—its treading water, and once you’re tired, the end result is that you drown. All I know is that there is never enough time, never enough money, and never enough daylight to do everything we want to do. But because I am fully aware that it is later than I could possibly imagine, I must take a giant leap into that wild abyss and explore what lies ahead.
Calvin and Hobbes||Cartoonist Bill Watterson
“Now ev’ry gambler knows that the secret to survivin’
Is knowin’ what to throw away and knowin’ what to keep.
‘Cause ev’ry hand’s a winner and ev’ry hand’s a loser,
And the best that you can hope for is to die in your sleep.”
Songwriter: Donald Alan “Don” Schlitz, Jr.
“There are two ways you can live: you can devote your life to staying in your comfort zone, or you can work on your freedom.” –Michael A. Singer
“It is truly a great cosmic paradox that one of the best teachers in all of life turns out to be death. No person or situation could ever teach you as much as death has to teach you. While someone could tell you that you are not your body, death shows you. While someone could remind you of the insignificance of the things that you cling to, death takes them all away in a second. While people can teach you that men and women of all races are equal and that there is no difference between the rich and the poor, death instantly makes us all the same.” — Michael A. Singer from The Untethered Soul
*The dream about the airplanes was an actual dream that happened a couple nights ago. The discussions with Death were not—praise God!
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