She opened up the appointment book and flipped through the pages, trying to figure out a way to schedule the next haircut around both of our schedules. If we don’t get it on the books, then too many weeks pass by and I grow increasingly overwhelmed by bangs gone awry.
We never did settle on the next date, which means last night’s cut & color is the last one before the taping of a nationally syndicated TV show in mid-November and the last one before my 60th birthday, just days after the election,
She tried to schedule me in the week of my birthday.
“I can’t,” I said. “I’m going away that week. To a monastery.”
She raised her eyebrows, looked cock-eyed at me.
“Is that like going away to a mental hospital?”
“Kinda,” I said.
Some handle stress by going out for a night with friends. They drink good wine, laugh a lot, sleep in the next morning. I knew six months ago that wasn’t going to work for me.
“I need to go away the week of my birthday,” I announced to my husband.
“Okay,” Tim replied. “We’ll go away.”
“No, you don’t understand,” I said. “I need to go away. Alone. By myself.”
Tim gave me the same puzzled look as my hairdresser.
“Turning 60 didn’t bother me,” my friend Lois said, unpacking her overnight bag on the guest bed this week. Lois turned 60 in January of this year. “Fifty is when it hit me.”
Turning 50 hadn’t bothered me. I had celebrated in DC with a crowd of veteran friends. One of whom gave me a copy of Prince of Tides and signed it as if he were Pat Conroy. I told Pat about it later. He loved the joke. It tickled him, this veteran’s sense of humor.
My daughter who was living in Virginia at the time, ordered a cake large enough to feed a crew of firefighters. But instead of putting 50 candles on it, the cake came with one very large and very phallic looking candle. The veterans had a heyday with that, you can imagine. My daughter was mortified. She had researched the bakery carefully, worked hard to get it just perfect. And it was perfect! We howled, all of us.
“Turning 60 is kicking my hiney,” I confessed to Lois.
In her book The Broken Way, Ann Voskamp relates how she used mason jars and counted out the wheat kernels to show her young daughter Shalom how many days a person might have, should they live to 70. Four jars full. Her daughter held one of the jars, aware that at 40, her momma doesn’t have four jars full any longer.
How many kernels do you have left? Shalom asked. Half of this?
“All we are … are these grain days,” Shalom surmised.
I’ve been aware, since I was 9, of the vapor that is life.
Time isn’t something to be seized, to be conquered, to hang onto, Voskamp writes. It is a gift for us to give away.
I wouldn’t throw money away heedlessly, in a fit of frustration or dismay. Why am I willing to throw my kernels out in such a careless fashion?
This election has warped my view of the eternal.
There’s my confession.
I am grieving, for being overwrought, for losing sight, or maybe not losing sight at all, but seeing things so clearly that the weight of their importance continues to burden me something fierce.
As it has so many of us, which is why we have become so polarized. Close friends no longer speaking, family members thinking unkind things of one another, open dialogue no longer a possibility. So much judgment.
Never in my lifetime has an election invoked such divisiveness. Hard not to compare it to the era of the Civil War, which rendered families asunder. How will we ever come back together for a time of Thanksgiving?
If ever a time called for prayer, this is it.
On Monday, November 7th, I’m checking myself into an abbey. I will be in a place of silent retreat until Nov. 10th. No phones. No internet. No news.
I will replace them instead with the rituals of prayers and psalms. There’s a library. I will read. There’s a kitchen. I will prepare food. I will eat in silence. I will read in silence. I will pray for this nation. I will pray God’s will prevails.
I will not be headed to DC for Veterans Day. I will come home instead.
God calls us to be a remembering people, Voskamp says.
I will spend time that week remembering that had he not died, my father planned to be home for my 10th birthday. Because of that hope, a father’s promise to a little girl, my birthday has always been the marker by which I count the loss, remember the sacrifices I can never forget anyway.
This is the 50th year since his passing.
Being among the veterans always brings me joy, always makes the heaviness of November tolerable, something to look forward to. They make me laugh, even if it’s about inappropriate candles on a birthday cake.
I will miss their company but this withdrawing is a conscience choice.
I feel the need to be in a quiet place, away from the noise of a world crazed with fear, a fear that can throttle me, too.
A gift arrived on my doorstep the other day, a fine leather bag with a note inside about how the bag was handmade by Sseko sisters in Uganda, who know griefs I will never know.
It was a generous gift from a woman unaware of how her kindness would minister to the burning places within, but who shares the pain of seeing women marginalized and girls considered less than, A woman who is keenly aware that wars waged, whether overseas or here on the domestic front, devastate the lives of women and girls everywhere.
I will pack up my books and my bible in that bag as I head off to that place of silent retreat.
Quiet down before God, the psalmist tells us.
Be prayerful before him.
Work for good.
Keep company with God.
This is how I intend to mark the milestone of turning 60.
I want to be regarded as a woman who kept company with God.
Not because I am righteous or right.
But because I am broken and redeemed.
Karen Spears Zacharias is a Gold-Star daughter who has authored a number of books, including After the Flag has been Folded, (HarperCollins).