By Edna Peirce Dixon
Today I’m thinking of my children and their mates, all now in their midlife years, some retired, some thinking hard about it. I watch with interest as each one embarks on the next phase of life, taking risks, setting new goals and following their dreams.
I think too about Ghost Dancer and Walks On The Grass, both good people I have come to know and love so well. They are close in age to my own four but the challenges and struggles of their lives have been very different. Both have missed out on the best years of their lives locked away in prison. Now free or preparing for release with little material wealth to call their own, both are bravely determined to follow their dreams for better lives in an unfamiliar world that may not even welcome them.
Thinking of all these, brings to mind the challenges of my own midlife dreams and the course of my journey. Nearly forty years ago as I was seeing my youngest off to college, the home nest felt mighty empty, and as I looked out ahead of me all I could see was the possibility of 50 empty years. All my life, I had never been anyone other than someone’s daughter, someone’s wife, or someone’s mother. Even though I was an RN with useful work to do, nursing was not my choice or my passion. Thanks to my faithful, hard-working husband, some of my childhood dreams had come true. I had a good life and my future was secure, but still I felt restless and unfulfilled. For several years the words to a song had frequently played in my head: “Is this all there is?”
One day as I browsed through the “self-help” shelves at my local library searching for answers, a tiny book caught my eye: Conversations On The Edge Of Eternity by Mary Kate Blackmar. I checked out the little book and in one afternoon read what this elder had to say. Several parallels in our core interests captured my attention; like my beloved Grandmother and many generations before, Kate Blackmar was a Quaker. Her thoughts on religion, the bible and the Quaker point of view were most interesting. However the conversations that truly inspired me were the whys and how’s of this woman’s many remarkable achievements, all made after the age of 50 beginning with going back to college. Apparently at some point in her life, Kate Blackmar had also wondered, “Is this all there is?”
In that moment I knew what I needed to do and in the footsteps of my children ahead of me, this mother was off to community college to discover who she was and what she wanted to do when she grew up. From day one I fell in love with learning so many things and writing all those essays gave me many happy hours. I heard the groans of my young classmates who were not having so much fun. Just like Kate Blackmar, I could see how some aspects of a liberal education are wasted on the young. Just starting out in life, young people are likely to be more concerned about gaining practical skills for earning a living than delving into history and literature.
Of course individuals do not all develop and mature in exactly the same way; like flowers some bloom early, some bloom late, and in a whole array of shapes, colors, and talents. One fact I came to realize is that maturity, discernment, and perspective matter a whole lot and one must truly be hungry to appreciate the wisdom and knowledge handed down through the ages by the great sages and poets in history.
In my youth I had been trained to be a nurse, but I lacked the experience to fully appreciate the benefits of a liberal education. Moving on to university level and still snapping up every course that interested me, I finally had to face the fact that a new career path was not my goal. I just loved learning and writing. My advisors wisely suggested that if I want to write, the best thing for me to do was write and keep writing. I also learned it does not necessarily take a higher degree for us late bloomers to find the direction we need. Seekers have plenty of opportunity to self-educate. That’s what libraries are for and with the advent of the internet, options for learning are more available today than they were then.
Now all too rapidly I find myself approaching the age Kate Blackmar was when she shared her wisdom at the edge of eternity and I’m still so glad her voice was there to inspire me. I cannot compare my humble path with hers. The level of her accomplishments were out of my reach but in following her lead I found the path I needed for me. Looking back, I’m pretty amazed by the course of the second half of my life in a totally different way. Learning to trust my own intelligence and discovering what I most loved – putting word to paper – as it were, gave my outlook an enormous boost.
I always knew I’d never publish the next great novel or even dream up an interesting short story. Among my friends there are several who can turn a clever phrase far better than I could ever imagine. I learned in school that journalism was definitely not my cup of tea and writing for children wasn’t either. Still, write I must, so my next task was to discover what my focus should be. Following the advice of my college counselor, I started out by volunteering at a raptor rehabilitation facility and creating a newsletter writing stories about the birds and the program.
Then believe it or not, my first real insight into where this all would lead came through a private reading by the late well known and respected psychic, Bobby Drinnon. Though we had never met, when I went for my reading, Bobby could see the emotional blocks from my past and he knew why I was there. He told me I should be a writer. I can still hear his next words: “You must write from passion.” That was amazing enough, but the real shocker came when he went on to tell me he saw two, maybe three American Indians who were or would be an important part of my life. To my knowledge, I didn’t even know an Indian, so I took that prediction with a grain of salt.
Five years would pass before the first Indian contacted me. The message came out of the blue from two states away. This man had been a high school classmate more than 40 years before. Like many Creeks in the south whose ancestors had escaped the removal, he kept quiet about his heritage because of the hostile attitudes toward Native people. Later in life he had embarked upon an ambitious idea to help educate people on the history and life ways of his Southeastern Creek Indian ancestors – a topic barely mentioned in southern schools. This chance meeting and my agreement to help would set the course for my growth and passion as a writer. I wrote letters, grants, educational materials, and newsletters, whatever was needed to help make “Bearheart’s Dream” a success. During the next 15 years I would come to know and work with many Creek-heritage people across the country.
Shortly after Bearheart’s death in 2013 one more twist of circumstance would lead me directly to Ghost Dancer and later to Walks On The Grass, the two Natives who have become such an important part of my life. I would continue to write from passion in all that I undertook, especially in my edits of these men’s work. Their teachings, legal briefs and the deeply moving life stories they have to tell make me keenly aware that my work must be thoughtful, informed and accurate if it is to fulfill a higher purpose.
Charting new territory in life is at best a bumpy road, especially when you have no clue where you’re going or the challenges ahead. I have taken many leaps of faith to find my own niche this past quarter-century. The path has never been easy; with every undertaking there has been a learning process, emotional stress, and sometimes conflict. Too often I’ve felt very alone and as I reflect on the bitterness and controversy, the stress once again overcomes sending me into bouts of depression, anxiety and panic.
Nothing in my life could ever compare to the extremes of suffering Ghost and Walks experienced. The qualities of love, kindness, respect and courage I found in them despite their suffering touched my soul. I am finally learning to stay calm, follow my heart, go with the flow and let the Great Mystery guide me through the storms. While I still have sorrows and regrets I am at peace knowing I have always given my best and that is all anyone can do in life.
Most surely the rewards have been great. I am secure in the love and respect of a few precious friends and family who make my heart sing. Each day is a new beginning, I’m still walking, always learning, always looking for something to do. I surely have a far better appreciation of my mother and grandmothers and so many women who continue to be creative and productive well into the final years of their lives. There is never a dull moment and I truly look forward to the challenges and gifts of my tomorrows. epd
September 28, 2022 Post Script
My inspiration for writing this piece was my observation of my own children and their spouses as they embark on their well-after-50 journeys. At the time, my son, Eric and his wife, Aimee were in the process of reaching for a great dream for their retirement years. Together they had just purchased a small farm and had begun developing Reflection Tree Art Farm Here in which they would combine their interests in permaculture farming practices, living close to the land, and their love of creating beautiful art. Their dream was to develop a retreat where all kinds of people could come to learn, to grow and to heal, far from the stresses of today’s world.
When I posted on September 1st, I could not fathom that just 12 days later, Aimee would be severely injured an a car crash while on her way to work as a 2nd grade teacher. She would lose her struggle for life just 3 days later. I cannot begin to describe the personal pain Aimee’s death heaped upon our beloved Eric, her son Eli, a college freshman, and all her family, as well as our family and untold numbers of friends, fellow teachers and students who loved Aimee dearly.
If anything positive is to be found in this tragedy, let it be a reminder to us all that we cannot take tomorrow for granted. Let us live each day to the fullest, putting aside petty distractions, practice the art of embracing each moment as an opportunity to give and receive love, kindness and compassion with a whole heart. epd