Written on November 23, 2014
I always like to dedicate these to someone…but this one is just for me. WARNING: Read at your risk. It’s heavy and I don’t want your pity. I just want to record, for my own benefit, the things that have made me who I am today on my 50th birthday. Be warned…despite this being the season of Thanksgiving, I’m not taking it well.
WHERE DID THE TIME GO?
My 4th grade teacher, Mrs. Bone, (oh, how I loved her) made us figure out what year it would be when we turned 25, 50, 80, etc... I very clearly recall saying "in 2014, I will turn 50 years old!" As if the world would come to a full stop. The horror of it! I shook it off with a Lucy van Pelt "BLECH!" then recess or lunch or something and I moved on as if time didn't matter, because in 4th grade, time is relative and moves like cold tar down a low hill.
Good times, 4th grade.
Forward 40 years...My official papers say I'm 50 years old today. I'm not dead yet, however, every time I ascend a set of stairs and listen to my carbonated knees or empty a brush full of the hair I used to have, I feel that death is walking slowly down the hall toward me.
When did that happen? There I was sitting at the feet of my beloved Mrs. Bone and in a blink I’m still sitting in school (there’s half my problem right there)…but I’m the teacher and I’m signing up for classes about my impending retirement!
While shopping for props for a show, I saw a black balloon with a big “50” on it and it said “Over the hill!” When did I finish climbing the hill? I know I must have, because I have a very distinctive feeling that I am skidding down the other side of it now. When did I reach the top? Did I not pause to look out and appreciate the moment? I must have been in rehearsal when that happened. Damn plays, they rule my life.
I guess I should be grateful I can still see the trail before me and I can still remember the 4th grade, so that's pretty good.
But what did I do with all those years and what do I have to show for it? I feel, today, like I showed up at the bank to withdraw $1000 for a trip and all I had in the account was $87.50. Where did the rest of it go? What did I spend it on?
THE DEFINING MOMENTS
SEASON ONE AND TWO – The Classical Period
SEASON THREE – The Medieval Times
I call this the Middle Ages, not because I was starting into my middle ages, but because it was dark. Like the Dark Ages. Almost Gothic in tone and style really. It was this time in my life that I was figuring out who I was. I didn’t do it in the teenage years like most people, I guess. In my early thirties I lost a man, a best friend, whom I thought I couldn’t live without. I gave a diamond back and burned a wedding dress. For about a year after it happened, I wasted time on hate. Then as time passed, I clung onto the idea that he might realize his mistake and return.
What I didn’t have the courage to do was to empty my heart of him. I became a person I didn’t like. I was scared to go into a grocery store for fear I would run into him. I became a kind of agoraphobic and stuck to my school and bedroom. I buried myself in my work until I was a recluse. I ate every meal in my car. In 1998 I produced 8 plays. One every six weeks. No human should do that. I thought – if he didn’t like me enough to marry me, there must be something very wrong with me…
…as I suspected.
I spent this season of my life wrestling with my conscience, my self-image, my natural man. I fought my religion, even my art was stale and canned…I fought everything and everyone that tried to tell me what I needed to do to be happy. I was so lonely and I could see my siblings little families taking off like wild fire which normally would make me so happy! But soon enough I had a dozen nieces and nephews and I was livid about it. Not with them, but with God. I built up a wall of bitterness that could be seen from the moon. I built a house to manifest my singular power. I thought that house would say “I can have anything a married couple has!” But the house engulfed me in loneliness further magnifying what I didn’t have.
In answer to the “stale and canned” art I was turning out, I went back to school and got a Master’s Degree in directing to further prove my prowess as a single person and I thought it would help restart the creative juices. It might boost my self-worth at least. When I was finished, with a 4.0, I was a top candidate for a theatre position at BYU. In the final interview, I was summoned to the church office building in SLC for my final interview with a General Authority. It was a polite interview, more of the same questions and then…he asked me why I wasn’t married.
Gah! My heart stopped.
(This next part is real. It was a defining moment in my life and that’s why I include it.)
He said “We prefer to hire married women because we’ve had some trouble with our single faculty members…you understand.” I did not, but I could assume some things based on his eye-rolling. He asked me if I was dating anyone and I was, sort of, dating a man I didn’t have romantic feelings for. But I sure appreciated him. I had dated a lot of men but did not feel the Spirit push me to pursue any of them romantically. I wanted to say “Do you know what’s out there?” but decided not to.
He then explained to me “perhaps you have the mentality of the high school students you teach. Love isn’t about the bells and whistles. You can fall in love with anyone over time…” This poor man that had been asked to interview me…he didn’t know how bitter I was, and how I was about to run screaming out of his office and out of the church. My head was swimming and then the nail went shattering into the coffin: “Sister Shelton, are you a Lesbian?” For the record I didn’t scream and go running out of the church office building or the church. I held it together until I got to my car in the parking garage and then I cried for two hours before I could even raise my hand to turn the ignition. In hindsight I wish I’d have said to him “being a Lesbian might be easier” just to see the look on his face. But I didn’t.
As the years went on I told people “I don’t need a man to complete me.” I started writing a book about this time of my life called “Ladies in Waiting.” It’s about patience. I hope someday I can finish that book and share it with other single women that feel lonely and left out of their very culture. However, getting married didn’t solve the problem. I still have that feeling today…only the category is different…but…
SEASON FOUR – The Renaissance
It took me nearly a decade to apply the old Buddhist adage “holding onto anger is like drinking poison and waiting for the other person to die.” I was positively poisonous when I turned 40. It was no wonder I was still single. I think I was addicted to bitterness at that point.
The fact is, despite my catastrophic attempt at trying to get into BYU, I kept going to church – for one reason: I needed a companion in my life and I could not deny that Jesus Christ was that person for me during that time. I leaned on Him. I felt His presence in my life. He was in my home, in my classroom and His Spirit was all around me. I had no one else. Inadvertently, through those murky years, I was developing a concrete relationship with my deity that would prepare me for a Renaissance.
One Sunday, I saw a young family sitting on a church pew ahead of me with three little kids sandwiched between them and my heart leapt into my throat. I remained in my seat. I was determined to “grow up” and quit belly-aching about what I didn’t have and think about my blessings. I have always been blessed with a great amount of hope and faith. I just kept adjusting my grip to the proverbial iron rod because I could not deny the testimony I have that I am a daughter of God and that I am continually sustained by His angels around me.
So, after getting all of their kids settled into coloring books and Cheerios, the dad leaned over with his arm along the back of the bench and rubbed his thumb over his wife’s shoulder blade. They turned, smiled at each other and locked eyes for a long time, their eternal bond effortlessly projected. I will never forget that moment as long as I live.
I lost it.
I stood up and left the building.
I drove immediately to the nearest LDS temple parking lot and just sat in my car. I promised God that if he would take away my feelings of bitterness, I would serve him all the days of my life. But I was not going to keep searching for a man. I was done. He was going to have to give me one on His own. I was going to have to be okay with myself first. I was going to have to be able to see myself as a whole person and not some “Lady in Waiting.” Waiting for what?
So for birthday number 40 I reacquainted myself with myself. I let go of all of the feelings of guilt I had for not going to all those singles dances, I got rid of my account on LDSsingles.com, I buried myself in my work and I started consciously trying to expunge myself of the bitterness. BUT…I found out you can’t do it alone. You have to trust God and stay near your family.
A week after my 40th birthday, Hyrum Smith, not the brother of Joseph, but the guy that invented the Franklin Day Planner, came to my work and shook my hand. He said “come to work for me.” And I picked up and left my students, my hometown, my parents, and my bitterness.
And I started over by myself.
What a person doesn’t realize is that you can do nothing by yourself. Working for Tuacahn was difficult because of the way I was hired. Nobody knew what to do with me. ( Chim Chim Cheree blog) I fought to be of value to them by staying at work for 18 hours a day. But on the weekends I visited my friends in Cedar City. One of those friends was Andy Hunsaker: August 9th
Within one year of working down under I had married the “The Renaissance Man” as I like to call him. He was able to take me through a Mormon temple to be sealed to him for “time and all eternity.” Poor sucker. He could have had anyone. But we are like Harold and Maude – completely addicted to each other and living a kind of secret love affair every day. He is everything any woman could ask for. I was, after 41 years of waiting, rewarded with a spouse that sent me 50 roses for my birthday and has accepted the fact, that because he married someone with 50 year-old eggs, he will not raise children in this life. And he’s okay with that. Or so he says. I’m not okay with it. So I still wrestle with those feelings in my heart every single day. But every time we attempt to go to an adoption conference or we secretly look into the foster care system, we have positively sick feelings about it. And if you’ve never felt the Spirit yell “NO” at you, then you don’t understand. Take my word for it. I want the kids on the church bench, the coloring books and the cheerios but God wants us to do something else with our time.
We raise other people’s kids.
But we are together…I am not alone.
For the sacrifice of marrying me and putting up with my antics, God has blessed Andy with a new group of kids that are incredible in every way. He loves them so much and I believe it is a mutual admiration society. They are bright, well-adjusted, and crazy passionate about what they do. He works his butt off creating his Kingdom. From the looks of it, and of him (since he’s now 300 pounds lighter than he was 18 months ago) he has the amazing ability to look at each day and take what comes with humor, love and energy. He just goes and goes. I’m so proud of his first musical here – The Drowsy Chaperone. The audiences never stopped laughing. I didn’t go into one rehearsal. I felt…well I won’t say I felt good about it, but I felt good about leaving him to do what I know he is so good at himself…and it was amazing…without me lording over him…and that’s good. He’s getting a taste of what it was like to be me at 26 and he could easily spend 24/7 in his theatre classroom and directing his season, but he doesn’t have to, because…
…he has me backstage. I’ll own that role. It’s just a little bit painful.
Because I, on the other hand, am still fat. I’m still living in someone else’s house and I’m not teaching the thing I know and love, theatre, but I am teaching English (in a theatrical kind of way…the only way I know.) My kingdom has four walls and a couple of bulletin boards that I haven’t committed to yet. This is the first time I’ve dealt with kids that don’t take my class for fun. I try to read To Kill a Mockingbird in a way that will make them say “My English teacher rocks! I love that class!” SAID NO SOPHOMORE EVER. I am not used to that. I stay in the wings in Andy’s world because it’s his Kingdom. He deserves it. He is the ruler over his dominion at last and I am not his boss anymore, but just another faculty member in another building somewhere. Don’t get me wrong, I love giving that last part away. I hated administration and everyone knew it. It was me that wanted to get back in the classroom where I belong. But I am a stranger to this classroom and this curriculum.
I am good at what I do and I’m an actress who pulls off a great act 8 hours a day…but I am miserable. I am not happy when I don’t have goals and vision and right now I have neither one. I have become a Lady in Waiting. Waiting for further light and knowledge…
That doesn’t mean I haven’t had a funeral (or two) for my identity.
The only thing I can do at this point is keep working. I know I will eventually get comfortable and make this my home. I found this quote – thanks to whoever posted it on Facebook – and it helped me so much. It is e.x.a.c.t.l.y. how I feel.
So I have to accept this change. I sat in God’s holy temple and told him I would be appreciative if he could help me give away this new bitterness and a flood of memories came back to me reminding me of the dark bitterness I traveled though without Andy. As I sat there, it was confirmed to me that I was doing the right thing and exquisite blessings would come my way if I made this sacrifice work for me. So I will watch and wait patiently because patience is my gift.
…but I get to wallow for a while.
THERE ARE SOME GREAT THINGS ABOUT TURNING 50
Just recently, I started to notice that I have completely stopped worrying about what other people think of me. I am 100% comfortable in my skin when it comes to other people’s opinions about what I am doing, wearing, saying, eating, believing… I’m not sure it’s always a good thing (it has gotten me in trouble on this blog for example) but I feel so free from worrying what I am doing, wearing, saying or believing. I just don’t care anymore about so many things.
And I think that’s part of my problem right now. You thought I might say that the aging process frees you from all your cares? No. You just do it with no makeup on. AND you acquire this little passive aggressive smile because you don’t give a $*!&# when someone tells you what you ought to be doing, wearing, saying or believing. You will find out that someday all those supermodels you went to school with will be fat and shopping at Lane Giant with the rest of us. Someday all those wealthy hipsters that celebrate their birthdays with $20,000 bottles of champagne will realize that there are still starving children in Nairobi. Someday, all the naysayers will be wrapped in the arms of God anyway…because that’s how He is. So you just give up worrying about it.
Some things become null and void at 50 at last. The sliver of hope that I might be able to bear my own living child is officially gone. And that’s a good thing, believe it or not. I know what you're thinking. What about that woman in China that had a baby at 62? “Why don't you adopt? There's always foster care…” First: If I end up having a child at 62 you'd better start locking down for Armageddon because that will officially be a sign of the times. I’m not attending any high school graduations at 80. And secondly, see the paragraph where God says “no.” He sometimes says no. And He needs you to be okay with that because He’s probably trying to make something else happen for you. Sometimes, we need to step out of His way. Sometimes it takes 50 years or so for you to be able to look back and say “OH. I didn’t know that’s what you were trying to do. Excuse me for standing in the way…for being the obstacle of my own progression.”
50 takes your nagging hope away for good. I mean, for a while - all the way up until my last miscarriage (at 48) I lived with a little light in my heart that I might deserve the miracle of Elizabeth and one of those babies would live. But no. There were officially ten miscarriages total and ten is nine too many for any person’s heart to survive without some hard core therapy. That is coming.
And so, believe it or not, 50 is a good thing. I need closure there for sure. There is nothing worse than being pregnant when you know you probably won’t carry the baby full term and if you do there might be something terribly wrong with the child, and is that fair to a baby being brought into this nutsy world with aging parents, and what if it’s perfect in every way…shouldn’t we keep trying for that opportunity, he could be the next Abraham Lincoln…oh $*?&*! SEE WHAT I MEAN?!? Yeah, that tightrope across a river 3000 feet below has been crossed. I did not fall, but my heart still aches when we sit among the young families in our ward during church. I’m told, from others who have been in my situation longer than I have, that it will never go away. But at least the anxiety of “whether or not” has gone.
SOME NOT SO GREAT THINGS ABOUT 50
My body is literally falling apart. I sleep until 4 or 4:30 every morning and then my shoulders are on fire or my feet, so I have to get up and move. Then I’m wide awake and I spent an hour lying there thinking “Why don’t you just get up and study your scriptures or exercise?” But I don’t. I just lay there and think about what I’m going to teach that day and make lists…so many lists.
When did I go from taking a single multi-vitamin every day to spending 30 minutes a week filling up my pill dispenser? If you saw my bathroom you would think I was addicted to supplements and every time a new trend comes out I think...maybe I should take that. I’m panicking in part because of a decision I made nearly 9 years ago when I married someone so much younger than me.
My husband is still in his 30's and now I am in my 50's. I sometimes have the feeling that one day he'll wake up, turn over and say "when did this old lady crawl into my bed? What kind of trick is this?”
WHAT I KNOW FOR SURE
Mormons are blessed in their early Mormondom with a thing called a Patriarchal Blessing. It is given to us by someone that has been given Priesthood authority to channel God’s promises and blessings that I will enjoy throughout my life should I remain faithful and live a good life. It’s the greatest thing about being Mormon! The prayer, on paper, is about 2 pages long single-spaced. When I was on my mission, my mission president suggested that I memorize it. Have the promises in my blessing come to pass? After 50 years I can now look back and say yes, yes, yes. Amazingly, yes. But one promise in particular has not been as literal as I would like it to be.
Here’s the passage that haunts me. It reads: “You will be blessed to be a mother in Zion. Your children, and their children, will sit at your feet, and called you blessed for your honesty and your fairness.”
There was a moment a few years ago after my last miscarriage, when I was wallowing in my depression – I was pretty down – and I went to a rehearsal as usual, and after the rehearsal I said “carpet up!” as usual – which means “come-sit-at-my-feet-because-I’m-not-leaving-this-chair-and-I-will-give-you-notes-about-your-performance.” Everybody knows that after rehearsal, the director gives notes to the cast to fix for next time. They aren’t always positive, but my job as a director is to make them look good, so the notes are always honest. This is the part where I have been known to say “let’s take the suck out of that scene next time.” But over the years I have learned to add a lot of humor so the notes become less chastening and more “you can do it, we’re all in this together!” It was in that moment that I looked around at the setting and remembered my blessing… “your children will sit at your feet…”
And my heart was full.
And the memories flooded back of kids sobbing in my office, asking my advice, preparing for college auditions, hanging out in my classroom at lunch, saying “we heard you laughing in the audience!” hugging me on closing night. All of those memories are mine! All of those blessings –my kids gave me all of those blessings.
I need to slap out of this 50 thing. I need to listen to my own advice! It’s all about patience… and now – even the blessing of being 50 allows me to look back and see how blessed I have been!
And will be.
This I know for sure.