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By Lanette Smith


“To make an end is to make a beginning.” – T. S. Eliot


Turning 50 has not been anything like what I thought it would be; but it’s been so much richer than I could have imagined.


In anticipation, I paint a self-portrait of sorts.  The canvas is as gigantic as it is messy; layer upon layer of attempt.  The subject matter is spent white peonies in a fractured vase mended with gold, a nod to the Japanese art of kintsugi, and the power of transformation.


Each shard represents a story from past decades I can tell you about:  forgiving the terrorists whose bomb killed my friend in Bali, being rescued off a mountain, holding still-born children, teaching my mentor’s last British Literature class when she passed away in the middle of Merchant of Venice.


I’ve done so many hard things I didn’t think I could do while also crossing over 286 items off my bucket list.  (And lesser, but just as terrifying experiences such as attending speed-dating as a middle-aged woman which wasn’t on my list but later added and satisfyingly crossed off).


The decades of letting go and transmutation on the road to becoming beautiful.


I step back and look at the canvas, in which I have hidden the words from Parisian floral designer Christian Tortu, “it is the bouquet that is unmaking us” and feel satisfied.  I’m ready to rest and enjoy life; enter into the golden age.  I have no idea the series of unmaking events that is about to come my way.


2024 starts from a grounded place.  I have a vague sense that what I don’t do will be more important than what I do, but everything is status quo which, while comfortable, also gives me the same uneasy feeling as when a child or small puppy is quiet for far too long in the next room.


A friend who has become like a sister ghosts me.


The next day I am suddenly laid off from my dream job, making the fourth consecutive budget-cut layoff for me in less than four years.


When I share my job loss with my neighbors, they open up about going through a lay-off as well, so we are able to support one another in the process.


Two weeks later, on the first day of my thankfully new job, I learn that a friend has taken her own life.


I’m familiar with just about every form of grief except this one and it shakes me to the core.


On just my second day in the office, I find myself already needing to ask for a day off to attend what will be a very complex memorial.  Wanting to be professional, and yet having stayed up all night crying, I quietly ask my new supervisor for a day off to attend the service.  Deciding to be what I hope is appropriately vulnerable I add, in a whisper, “she took her own life.”


My supervisor looks at me and says, “You will not believe this, but we got the same news about a friend last night as well.”  For a moment, we think it may be the same person.  It is not, but a shared empathy is created that we both need going into the workday.


I am completely disoriented, logging into yet another professional email account at an unfamiliar work station; learning a new office environment and career, while trying to wrap my heart around this fresh loss.  Eyes puffy with grief, I am grateful for employment but also deeply tired and feeling vaguely like a pawn in the chess game of life.  I can barely find the office mugs and coffeemaker, much less the strength to do yet another round of the transformation and growth I say I value so much.  Both my head and heart are weary.


After the memorial a friend and I are out walking a path nearby to get some air and process our feelings together.  She is a faithful friend, always game for fun adventures as well as ballast in the storms of life.  I am definitely drawing comfort from her presence, and she has just finished saying how she hopes that I will get a sign that the friend who has passed away is at peace.


At that very moment I look down and there on the path in front of me is a heart.  (I have been finding heart-shaped objects for several decades, so I suppose my eye is trained to see them, but this one is different).  I stoop down to pick it up, cry-laughing, because it is none other than a gorgeous one-of-a-kind hand-blown glass heart in my departed friend’s favorite colors. 


It's solid in my hand, as contrasted to everything that feels so out of my control and grasp.  I hold it up to the light, the colors and glass bubbles dancing in the early evening sunset.  It feels like a miracle.


I used to think hard things were something I had to steel myself for “getting through”.  Now I feel as though guarding my own heart is not so much about armor than about the wholeness that comes with staying tender; more about taking an honest inventory and maintenance concerning any hardness that may be tempted to take up residence and pulling it out early, like pre-emptive weeding in the garden.


I am starting to see how each job loss, though difficult, is actually an asset, building skills and flexibility that have led to the position I have now where I can serve so many people.  Though the learning curve is high and I’m making new mistakes each day, it is an invitation to allow myself to be reinvented and resilient.  In a time of ageism, it feels good to be told that my maturity and life experience were top reasons for being hired.


While I will always miss the friends that, for whatever reason are not able or willing to connect, as well as the ones who have passed away, it’s made me an even more compassionate friend to those in my circle who are enduring hard times. 


Even though it’s a risk, I’ve found that when I initiate sharing what I’m going through that it gives others permission to say they’re going through the same thing.  So much common ground and mutual support opens up that may otherwise have been known available.


And I’ve become more curious about how these experiences may deposit their treasures as they move through me at the pace of light.


At 50 I feel both stronger and softer like this hand-blown heart of glass.


Lanette Smith is a seminarian working now in property management in the Willamette Valley: Oregon Wine Country. She is also a poet, musician, and artist whose been a pastor, mentor, and professor. She believes in curiosity, humility, kindness and hardy elegance. She lives on 5 acres in Dundee, OR where she gardens, kayaks, raises chickens and tries to do the next good and true thing.

 



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5 Comments


Guest
Jun 21

So very beautiful, reaching deep into our tender hearts that connect with yours. Thank you for this gift.

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Guest
Jun 15

Where words fail some, you always are able to articulate so well. I hope this season is the best yet for you 🫶🏼

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Guest
Jun 14

I feel any comment I leave will pale so drastically in comparison to the depth of beauty in word and emotion conveyed by this incredible soul I call my friend.

Thank you Lanette for your radient, childlike spirit that never forgets to see the wonder in the world and greet it with a smile even in the face of tragedy.

❤️Andrea

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Guest
Jun 14

Thank you, Lanette, for this wonderful and meaningful reflection!

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Guest
Jun 14

Wow.

Thank you.

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