Forty and There is No Other Little Corner of the World


Living means relating inside and out. To seek for “your [own] centre” is a bit like aiming for self-preservation through freezing. To be alive and awake is to allow your centre to be shifted and stretched again and again. — Seikan Čech

Last night, we took a walk through the Smith campus in the dark, after getting a bite to eat in Northampton.

I pulled Mani close and kissed her. Twenty years ago, I was a Barnard student, and never once did I kiss a woman. Instead, I sat at the kitchen table and asked my mother how she’d feel if one of her daughters was gay. Hypothetically, of course. Maybe I’m making up for lost time–and marveling, too, at how there really is no other, or better, way for everything to happen than the way it happens.

It’s convenient being 40. I can now say things like, “I spent my 20s and 30s…”

I spent two decades–longer–searching.

Searching for a business partner, someone I could join forces and collaborate with. So many coffee dates and near misses. Searching for livelihood that would be both lucrative and fulfilling. Searching for ways in and searching for ways out. Man, there was a lot of searching. So many questions. Slowly, then all at once, seeing what was right in front of me. Hearing the word “surrender” for the first time and only years later experiencing its true meaning, which left me keening with grief and rising up with a fierce will to walk the rubble and rebuild. Gratitude, gratitude, gratitude. Struggle, struggle, struggle. Practice, practice, practice. Lots–as my father once observed–of “heavy sighing.”

And then, these words from Emily Dickinson, at my front door, fire in the belly, the top of my head coming off like a lid under pressure:

The Heart wants what it wants – or else it does not care.

The woman who feared being “just a catalyst” asked me, “What do you want?” A friend who knew how to cut to the truth asked me, “Do you want her?” Another friend said, “Forget him. Forget her. What about you?” And another: “You’ll know when you know.”

I spent two decades–longer–seeking out teachers.

Approval and validation from others. And having babies! Working and wanting and stifling. Great joy in the building of a community. And. So. Much. Angst. Angst, angst, angst! Always thinking there was some other life I was moving towards–the one that was “over there, behind the shelf the sexton keeps the key to,” another line from Emily Dickinson, one that both defined and guided me throughout my early adulthood. Jumping around from thing to thing, idea to idea, job to job, a dog going in mad circles trying to get comfortable.

Heaving sighing, indeed.

And now, the first spring in the first year of a brand new decade in my little corner of the world. I will surely look back on this and smile at myself, thinking how young forty really is.

Discontent still rushes in by default. Restlessness so habitual I have to throw cold water on my face, stand up and stretch and shapeshift back again to the center that I spent so long guessing at, intuiting, missing, overlooking. Sometimes, I forget I’m here, really here.

אין עוד. Ein od. There is no other. No other self. No other god. No other life. No other path than the one below and before me. No other center. No missing pieces or secret hinges. No other place to be, no other past than the one that was, and no other future than the next breath and the next.

We underestimate ourselves so egregiously. Disregard our many skills, the wisdom we’ve accumulated through sheer experience, all the decisions we’ve made and hard calls and sudden moves and baby steps. Trips to visit new nieces and dying loved ones. Hot springs and hospitals and hotels and moving trucks and lay-offs and vows made and broken, laughing fits and crying jags and conversations that changed us or converted our pain into power and movement as we walked, on bike paths and city streets and through the woods and up mountains and around neighborhoods at night, peering into other people’s kitchen windows before returning home. There is no other, no other home than here.

Do you forget sometimes, too? Get all heady and sigh heavily and draw a blank about how far you’ve come, or live in a state of constant nagging that you still have so far to go?

Where is it we think we’re going?

On my bedroom wall, there is a Nikki McClure print I bought for myself a couple of years ago. A woman diving, hands in anjali mudra, into the water. Return, it says. Return to the pulse of your life. Return to the sounds in the room and the birds in the yard and the day that has just begun. Confusion is a dubious safety net; look closely and you’ll see it’s tattered and full of holes. Put it out with the trash. There is no other little corner of the world I’d rather be, no other route I should have taken to get here. When I have waves of feeling diminished by the ordinary rhythms of these days, I step back and see: My god! So many gifts received and given freely, daily.

Return. Return to your corner of the world. To the center you can stop seeking because it’s never left you. To the magnificence of your being and the magic of your aliveness. It doesn’t have to be bigger, better, or different. All the years of whispering to my girls at bedtime, “You are just right,” come home to roost. Ein od. There is no other. There is no other me. There is no other you. And to that, let us say, Amen.

6 thoughts on “Forty and There is No Other Little Corner of the World

  1. April Bennett says:

    Oh, Jena. You got it just right. And I was just reflecting on my former restlessness, just as you described, just the other day. I was telling someone that I used to be afraid to die, but now that I’m really living, that fear is gone. Thank you for your birthing process and your midwifery.


  2. Pamela says:

    Hearing the word “surrender” for the first time and only years later experiencing its true meaning, which left me keening with grief and rising up with a fierce will to walk the rubble and rebuild.

    Jena. You always lead me back to my own center. Thank you!



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