Inevitably, around 8 or 9pm, that text bubble pops up on my screen with my neighbor’s name and a little question: “Small triumph today?”
Sometimes I have to scan my day to find it—oh yeah, I figured out how to return that package that’s been sitting by the door for weeks. Sometimes it is sitting right there on the crimson meat of my tired heart—I apologized to my kid after yelling at her. Always, it is a gift to be asked.
I’ve been thinking about this little ritual lately as a clue to something larger I am learning about human evolution (not the ape-turning-into-man kind, but the-woman-becoming-ever-more-of-her-brave-and-true self kind). The older I get, the smaller my most sacred moments of growing up become.
When I was younger, growing up was dramatic and often visible. It was theatrical heartbreak; my junior high boyfriend actually spread rose petals and placed a note dumping me on my bed while I was out of town once. It was measurable achievement; passing the driver’s test, winning the award, walking across graduation stages. It was delicious rebellion; publishing my righteous letter declining my debutante invitation in the high school newspaper.
Now that I’m 41, growing up is none of these things. It’s quiet and sober. It takes place, not on stages, but on masked walks in the neighborhood and in my living room at 9pm. It’s subtle on the outside, transformational on the inside. It’s much more corporeal than it used to be. Much more intimate with humility. More more patient. Much funnier, now that I think about it. This trying to be a grown up thing is so tragic and so hilarious.
It’s sitting with my discomfort that I can’t fix things for the people I love the most. It’s watching how dumb I am at doing anything other than fixing. It’s having compassion for that, and also not letting myself off the hook for getting better at sitting with my people’s pain.
It’s telling a friend that she hurt my feelings when she hid a part of herself from me; it’s asking her if there’s something I am doing that I can shift, so that she feels safer in showing up as her whole self with me.
It’s watching what’s going on inside my body when someone says something that makes me defensive, and getting curious about it rather than hijacked by it. Huh, there’s heat in my chest. My peripheral vision is narrowing. What’s up with this? What’s up with me (not him)?
It’s hearing the bitter, old cowgirl (I come from Western, working class women) in my brain tell me that resting and asking for help is for debutantes, not women like us, and telling her that she’s kind of an asshole, and maybe also falling for the myths of agro-capitalism, all while acting like she’s just really rugged and independent. I like her style, but not her cruelty or obsession with getting it done.
It’s walking away from cheap drama and towards genuine, growth-producing disagreement.
It’s forcing less, wanting something, but trusting the universe’s divine timing and then, and this is really important, taking great pleasure in the thing when it arrives.
It’s attending to my story, but also leaving lots of blank pages for surprise.
It’s feeling the weight lifted from my shoulders when I depersonalize, decenter, de-everything. I’m just a person. No more special or capable than any other person, no matter what my ego might tell me when I’m high on helping.
It’s learning to roast beets. It’s flossing my teeth for a month and a half now. It’s valuing sleep and hot showers.
It’s learning to say, “It’s going to take me a minute to process. Can I get back to you?” before answering. It’s answering no when I mean it. It’s answering YES! when I mean it (and getting to enjoy the emphatic quality of that honest exclamation.)
It’s learning the names for different kinds of trees. It’s learning the names for different kinds of love.
It’s knowing there is nothing original to say, and not worrying so much about saying it anyway. I’ve only got this one life to tell you what I’m noticing. Maybe it will be helpful to you. Maybe it won’t. It’s worth the effort to marvel at the surprising texture of maturation either way.