On Finding Yourself Where You Need To Be
By Sherri Wren Haymore
Have you ever reached a life passage, assessed your situation, then given yourself a smack on the head? This is pretty much what happened to me this year after reaching my dotage, the grand age of sixty. I looked around with some dismay and realized that my life at sixty is not quite the way I had pictured it would be. I don’t feel as if I’ve accomplished all I’d intended, or even been the person I had meant to be.
Upon closer inspection, however, I realized the journey that brought me to this point has been exactly right. When I was a youngster, around 45, my sister and I were enjoying our annual waterfall hike. If you don’t have such a ritual, you really must begin one. We meet, usually in November, somewhere between Brevard and Highlands to seek out new waterfalls. Our quests have taken us tromping through backyards and trekking beyond road’s end into the deepest back woods.
This particular trip found us in a more populous area than usual, and there I saw the woman I decided to be one day. She was beautiful, about sixty: unflappable demeanor, beatific smile, straight black hair proudly streaked silver and braided down her back, T-shirt under well-worn jeans jacket, and dark blue jeans. She stepped nimbly onto a rock in the center of the stream with feet shod in the most soft, supple, brown leather boots I had ever seen. And around her, bouncing from rock to rock, jostling for position near her flocked a band of adoring teenagers.
She might have been a camp counselor or church youth leader. It didn’t matter to me—I could picture myself in her role. When I described the scene later to my daughter, she noted, “You don’t want to be like her. You want to be her.” And she was right. Plus, I wanted those boots.
On another occasion while still a youngster, I saw another woman I aspired to be. She played drums in a Christian rock band—about sixty, with silver hair framing her face in soft, radiant waves. Perhaps it was the lighting in the place, but I declare she exuded a glorious peace, her serene smile never wavering even as her quick hands handled the drum sticks with unbroken rhythm. Again, I wanted to be this woman. I hankered to become a drummer.
I recall a gathering of close friends during that same time period, women with whom I was free to share my deepest secrets and silliest longings. The question making its way around our circle was something along the lines of, “Where do you see yourself in fifteen years?” I was stretched out on the floor, one foot twirling in the air, my shoe dangling off my toes. When it was my turn, I stated with as much seriousness as I could muster, “Well, I just assume I’ll be famous,” eliciting chuckles and snorts of laughter.
In keeping with my love for women’s gatherings, I’ve harbored a secret longing all these years to own a retreat center. I’ve drawn the space in great detail in my mind: ample sleeping quarters and bath rooms, outdoor spaces for private reflection and activities, spacious living room with comfy seating for teaching and discussion, open kitchen and dining area where I’ll cook, serve healthy feasts and preside over the procedures. The retreat center woman in my vision is not only fascinating, serene, and famous, she also has deep pockets.
So here I am, fifteen years later, age sixty. I’m supposed to be a quick-handed drummer, bearing serene, detached beauty, a woman whose aura keeps even teenagers spellbound. I should have a long silver braid and exquisite boots. I should be a camp counselor or better yet, own an amazing retreat center. And I should be famous for… something.
Here’s my reality: My hair is messy short and chemically coaxed to remain blonde; I possess no talent for the drums (or guitar, for that matter) and don’t even know where to find such fabulous hiking boots; My demeanor leans more toward wiggly impatience than serenity. Besides that, I’m not famous even in my hometown, and my pockets require major alteration.
Yet on the journey from a youngster to sixty, I have been the woman I aspired to be. When I take retrospective stock of those years, I see that I’ve possessed all that was required at exactly the right time, and been who I needed to be.
Indeed, I was that woman surrounded by a gaggle of exuberant teenagers! For a few satisfying years I led a youth group, and I enticed that bunch of kids off the church pews onto hiking trails. It was my pleasure to instigate kayaking expeditions where the kids found more ways to ride a river upside down than I can recount. Yes, I was the mesmerizing woman seen at the waterfall, or at least the kids were surprisingly attentive to my stories. Perhaps I never quite managed her tranquility, however, because in photos my smile is more dimple-splitting than beatific.
And while drumming was never to be part of my life story, I was also that woman for a season. In a role more in keeping with my talents, I sang doo-wop harmony in a Christian rock band amidst banging drums and wailing guitars. I may not have been the serene, quick drummer at the center of the rock machine, but it’s possible that when the light hit my blonde hair just right, I may have exuded radiance.
Am I famous? Well, I’ve published a couple of novels, and people connected to me have heard all about it. Strangers don’t exactly clamor for my autograph in the grocery line, so my fame seems to have puddled only as far as my name was already known. But you know what? Hearing readers’ excitement discussing my books is far more satisfying than empty fame could ever be.
On top of that, I discovered the perfect retreat center, just forty-five minutes from home, in the form of a river house available for rent. As many as fourteen ladies can share the cost, sleep comfortably, take long walks beside the river, engage in life-changing discussions in not one, but two spacious seating areas, share secrets on five porches, enjoy my feasts created in a kitchen with—count them—three sinks! Every visitor declares there is a sweet spirit about the place, and since the original home dates to the turn of the previous century, I suspect the spirit of a previous owner lingers. Whatever spirit lives there, she’s very welcoming, and best of all, I don’t have to empty my pockets to enjoy the home.
Here I am at sixty, and while it’s nothing like I expected, I’ve managed to live the life I desired, always in the right season. Perhaps you have as well. At your upcoming life milestone (also known as Next Thursday), assess your journey with an eye less cynical and more focused on grace. Can you, like me, say that you’ve been given what you needed at precisely the right time? And do you see providence not only for yourself, but graciously available for those within your sphere of influence?
Can you say that you have poured your life out in some good way because you were where and who you needed to be? When I think about it, the woman we each aspire to be can never be a flawless figure on the horizon. Every day, we are perfect for the people who need us, continually being re-created for living life on purpose.
My mother, an energetic woman at eighty-nine, had this to say recently, “When I turned sixty, I thought I was just getting started.” And why not? Wherever you are in your journey, if you think of yourself as just getting started, life opens up to a whole world of possibilities, doesn’t it? For myself, I’m thinking of sixty as a blank slate, and I’m ready to see who I’ll be over the next fifteen years!
Sheri Wren Haymore grew up in Mt. Airy, NC, and still lives thereabouts with her husband and a pup named Cercie. Together, they’ve made a living running a couple of small businesses, and made a life doing things they enjoy—traveling, hiking, cooking, and kayaking. Sheri authored two suspense novels: A Higher Voice and A Deeper Cut.