In the photo, I am standing next to a wall in Venice Beach. We are on an early morning walk, but the sun is already warm, and we have moved from the sand to the bike path. It is my 65th birthday and my life is good. I cross my arms in front of me when Jodi says she wants to take my picture because it’s my first instinct when I face anyone or anything head on. The most basic book about body language would say I’m protecting myself and, in a way, that’s partly true. Since I was a young kid, my innate awkwardness has befuddled me when it comes to what to do with my limbs, alternating between shoving my hands into my pockets and folding my arms in front of me. When I look closely at the photo, though, I know it is deeper.
It’s hard for me to stand strongly and comfortably in myself. My tendency is to lean toward the needs and opinions of others, quickly leaving my own with a promise to get back to them soon. It makes me available and accommodating with other people, but sometimes a bit of a stranger to myself. This ease with which I can dismiss my own story and make myself small and quiet is sometimes baffling to me when I consider my age and experience. If I met someone like me, I would urge her to put herself out there, to be as big and confident as she can be, and to stand firmly and proudly as her own biggest fan. And yet, I sell myself short, apologize so automatically and readily that I no longer even notice, and continue to contain my world in a smaller box than it merits.
If I met someone like me, I would urge her to put herself out there, to be as big and confident
as she can be ...
It’s not anyone’s fault that we stand where we stand. Not even ours. We each have a story that has guided us to this point, that has cleared the path or covered it with rocks and roots that have made it hard to navigate. A few turns here or there were results of poor decisions, but mostly we keep walking, continue to forge ahead with as much strength and humor as we can muster. When things get tough, when we are pulled in a million directions by the voices in our lives, we arm ourselves, we put up our dukes, we close the doors. It’s an automatic instinct to protect that person we are way deep inside. The world feels hard and unfair and cold on those days, and sometimes it’s easier to latch up the gate and go inside to the warmth than it is to stand tall and brave and know we have what it takes to win the battle with the storm.
That’s how I learned to stand here like this—not exactly in my own shoes, not always on my own team, rarely advocating for my own journey—a survival mechanism gone awry. My go-to response has often kept me scared, passive, lacking confidence. I think the race of our lives teaches us the least painful, most efficient detours with the best intentions, but in the end it makes it even harder for our tiny selves to grow large enough and proud enough to stand in the light as we deserve to.
And then, the loveliest thing happens. We get old, or older. We realize no one much is paying attention any more and we start to feel a bit more breathing room than we’ve experienced before. We’re still racing, but the competition in our age group is thinning. Our collective empathy is kicking in and we are kind enough now to encourage each other. It’s then, when the sun feels warmer and the crowds really are cheering for us, that we start to feel most comfortable in our very own spot, the one we dreamed of, planned for, worked toward. Step up now. Stand here. It’s time.