Because Erica’s getting older, there’s a lot less to worry about, on the cosmetic front. I mean, when you’re 17, it makes some kind of sense to buy & even to apply teal eyeliner, magenta lipstick, foundation goo intended to laminate your zits into hiding, but let’s face it, as Erica and I are getting older, we don’t give a rat’s ass. Sometimes it still happens that I see someone with perfectly applied swooping black wings on her eyelids, and I think, what a glorious thing! But then, in CVS, with my 2-for-1 deodorants and fluoride rinse in hand, I just can’t find the self-seriousness or the stamina to face the endless wall of goony-eyed models, select a vial of product, slide it out of its glamor-silo, and pay $17 for it. It just doesn’t happen, because I’m getting older, and so later, when it rains, I don’t have to worry about blotchy, itchy flakes of black in my eyes. I can cry with abandon, and not feel I am ruining anything. I can fall asleep anywhere, wake up, rub my face, and everything’s fine.
I used to be a real zealot about my black lines. On the long flight to Tokyo, when I was 21 and wing-eyed, the flight attendant asked me whether I was part-Japanese, because her child was going to be, and she was hoping her daughter would look like me. A guileless and flattering thing to say, though only really possible from the perspective of looking down at my 6-foot body. I told her I knew her children were going to be beautiful. I carried my Revlon liquid liner all around Shikoku Island, walking with a backpack full of film & books & only partially effective rain gear. I could not imagine letting the world see me without a decorative awning, even though the world was mostly temples, rice fields, and the old people who had bent in them for centuries.
They didn’t care. I cared. I slowly learned not to in the subsequent years’ travels. I learned to see my face naked and accept it that way, and not need to put black lines between my gaze and others’. Then for a while I wore enormous British National Health Service glasses with thick lenses that created their own kind of distance.
Because Erica and I are getting older, I am pretty sure that 4th of July anxiety doesn’t apply as much anymore. I mean – I’ve known all kinds. Most of the first 16 or so were spent in France, where the 14th was the real deal, and the only people paying any attention to the 4th were the American sailors on board the destroyer they would park in the Baie de St. Tropez like a great gawky stretched-out Escalade puffing its uncool chest outside a club everyone else walks to. My uncle, unwisely, pointed his little grey rubber Bombard at it, full-speed, gesturing and yelling Poussez-vous! A stunt best done before The War on Terror, in the bare-breasted 1970’s, to be sure.
So the 4th of July is historically not my thing, except for one spent in San Diego with some friends of my parents. We went to picnic by the harbor, and stayed for the Pops, followed by tremendous fireworks: a whole American flag at ground level, with larger explosions above, and parts of the great American fleet looking somehow flat-grey and festive at the same time.
When I came back to the US from the monastery, suddenly the holiday arose with a whole new urgency, showing me I knew no one to spend it with – at least: no one whose family space would include me. I felt a sharp pain at being left out of what claims itself as everyone’s holiday. Not everyone’s. I was deportable. It was not clear where I could be. No country for bald women. Ashamed of loneliness, I felt it more keenly.
But now I know. Sit still long enough on the porch, reading out loud to myself, and sipping on a gin and tonic with cucumber slices, and a hummingbird will come to hover snoutily at the delphiniums, and dart away to its home, far away over the sumac. The feeling of one-ness, now-ness, sacredness, and participation will seep up from the ground, and drift down from the sky. It will open from the heart of its own accord, 4th of July or no 4th of July. There may be pie, or not. Sacred space is here. Here under the wide shade of the river-fork trees, here where crazed chipmunks dart up the linden trunk, in the lee of the parking lot, in the lull of the traffic, in the shelter and company of all beings who take refuge without begrudging the moment anything.
Because Erica and I are getting older, because I am getting older, I am better at filtering out and filtering in, though it’s still hard for me to say no when obligation arises. No, I will not bend myself into crazy shapes to meet a need that comes up like a rumor of war from another country. No, your perception of emergency does not necessarily involve me. The trees smell good here. I have my own work to do. May yours go well.
I think it’s very important to know that we meet at very particular points in vast rolling cycles. Ask me one morning, coming from your own spaciousness into mine, and there will be effortless, obvious yes. Ask me two hours later, after the locked doors and obstacles of a new batch of emails, and I won’t be able to find a truthful yes for you. If I’m careful, I won’t lie one up for the sake of decorum. I won’t paint the black lines on, and you’ll be left to decide whether to drop it, do it yourself, or ask someone else.
Truthfulness is changing because I’m getting older. Not the young woman’s crusade anymore. More like the older woman’s considered evaluation of what’s happening in nearby territory, and in the inner hinterland. What can be said and heard? What can be said and not-heard, but needs to be said anyway, because it’s cowardly or condescending to hold it back? What deeply uncomfortable truth needs out, so that the illusion of an infinitely competent and energetic self gets laid to rest again and again?
Because I am getting older, I know exactly how much I relish bed at 10PM, the fat science fiction novel and the succor of pillows.