The Autumn of Life

by Edia Stanford-Bruce

The year I turned 40, I disappeared.

It had been coming on gradually, this “fading,” but I waved it away as the mere product of an over-active imagination or peri-menopausal anxiety. The atmosphere in several areas of my life was shot through with an unsettling chilliness and the earth seemed to be holding her breath; waiting for something.  Then, one night, frost hit. The next day, I was “middle aged.”

I began to notice magazine covers in bookstore racks. There were articles about how to be a sexy lover; how to be a beautiful bride; how to be a happy mom-to-be; how to be a good mom, how to pay for college and then, that was it. There was no sign life existed after 35.

I would pick through the mall attempting to dress a body that was betraying me, not shedding the creeping weight gain, shoving me toward the women’s sizes.  “My size” clothes were now located deep in the innards of stores hidden well away from the “career” misses and miles away from the uber-trendy petites on the highly visible outer aisles. Clothes after 35 were cheaply made, boring colored and fashion null. The personnel in my favorite stores began to ignore me and I sought solace in new boutiques especially for “my size”.

The changes growing older brought frightened me. Every year something that to my mind affirmed my identity as a woman, as a mother, as a productive member of society, dropped away. I shriveled inside like leaves denied the summer sun. At the point I thought that there was no more purpose for living and no more reason to expect anything but to blow away, I turned 50.

My gardens and all the earth became my professors. I began to listen and examine closely the lessons about living they were teaching. The first, most important lesson is that each season has its own specific work. Autumn is the season of harvests. The work of autumn is to gather in– whether for dinner, for preserving, or for next year’s seed. So, with same the purposeful energy that I harvested my peppers and tomatoes from the gardens I gathered in the produce my soul grew in the summertime of my life.

At 40 I was examining the early fruit harvest of my poison beds (habitual negative thought) — lack of self esteem and depression. However, by 50 I had learned that there were several more harvests to come before the killing frost that signals the beginning of winter. Now was the time of the fruit harvest of the more prosperous intellectual groves of beautifully ripe love for art, literature and spirituality. Not only that, the grain harvest of the second career 30’s and 40’s was standing in the field, ready for the scythe. That meant the half-century mark of my life was no time to mourn the passing of life’s summer. There was still work to do.

Most mind bending of all, I discovered an “interim” planting time—a time to sow the seed of a third career. Then I really began to appreciate the benefits of the season when the oppressive heat cools into twilight glow. The invisibility of the autumn woman came as a surprising blessing. The pressure was off to be pretty, perky and cute. People would carry home my words like prized cuttings because I was now someone who would be seriously listened to. Some of “Mami’s wisdom” gained from living would be preserved, not in Mason jars, but in scrapbooks and the memories of those who heard the stories.

This was not a time to categorize myself as “lost potential.” It was not a time to envy the energy, smooth skin, and toned muscles of youth. I began to notice more positive—even sexy– images of autumn women boldly looking out at me from magazine stands and more stylish clothing in stores as I turned 56 last month. However, there is still resistance to full acceptance and understanding of the seasons of adulthood after summer. I disappeared as a customer to the media and businesses that pandered to the youth market. Yet because of this, I entered a new season of freedom where I did not have to cater to images of how I should look or behave. There indeed was life—a new adventure– after 35. I embraced the crone and danced into the autumn life.

Edia Stanford-Bruce is a freelance writer and the Vice President for Public Relations, Booz-Allen Hamilton Toastmasters Club in Tyson’s Corner, VA. She earned the BA from Norfolk State University School of Journalism and also holds a M.Ed. in early childhood education from Rutgers University, specializing in literacy. Currently, she volunteers with Reston Interfaith as an administrative assistant supporting Stonegate Village Residents Services Office in Reston, VA. She and husband, retired pastor Rev. Dr. George Bruce, are happily empty-nesting in Reston’s Historic Lake Anne neighborhood. Her commentary about searching for work in the second half of life, “Victoree’s Blog: No White Flag”, is available on wordpress.com.

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12 Comments

  1. Rosemoon   •  

    Thank you for this lovely article—it was just what I needed this early autumn morning.

  2. Patty   •  

    Beautifully written
    As I face my 59th birthday this week I revel in the freedom of no longer having to be anyone but me. If I want to muck about in raggedy cotton pants and bare feet-or dance in flowey skirts and too many bracelets it’s my choice and who cares what the neighbors say

  3. Gayle   •  

    This is beautiful and so timely for me. Thank you so much.

  4. Sue   •  

    What a true reflection of how the commercial world views women as customers – mirrored my experience exactly – as we age we become like the older trees – stronger against the storms of life – with leaves of a different color – thanks for this piece.

  5. Catherine   •  

    Thank you, Edia, for your beautiful thoughts and words. As a 52 year old, the “take-away” in your piece for me is the idea of the interim planting time that comes between summer and autumn.

    Another aspect of contemporary aging is the gift of modern medicine. My spouse and I already have occasional age-related complaints, prompting me to say (and he doesn’t like this) that we really weren’t designed to live as long as we now do.

    But it’s true: up until the last thousand years or so, people only lived into their thirties or forties, on average.

    Now, when our bodies begin to break down, parts can be repaired and even replaced. We can practice better self-care by utilizing current knowledge of more appropriate nutrition and exercise. It’s miraculous. Especially for those of us who don’t feel they’ve used their youth wisely, it represents another chance to make our mark; to make it right.

  6. Beautifully said…beautifully written…and beautifully lived! 🙂
    I could not have expressed these sentiments better! Thank you for caring…..and sharing!

  7. Marci Tsohonis   •  

    Edia, I LOVE this! My thoughts, exactly. 🙂 Marci

  8. Judy Eastwood   •  

    Thanks so much for this article. I, being 57, also have these thoughts. I guess I didn’t realize that they were so common. I feel I have been looking in the wrong place for solutions. I’ve been searching for enlightenment when all I need is to move with the seasons instead of rising above them. I think I can turn the corner now.

  9. Rachel Vigil   •  

    Edia your words really reached me and echo some of my own thoughts about middle age as an American woman. I find your take on being off the marketing grid to be encouraging. I think I needed to be reminded to reinvent myself again as I have so many times in my younger past. Aging can put a hiccup in things, and I appreciate your wise words!

  10. Edia Stanford-Bruce   •  

    All the comments have been inspiring, wonderful and thoughtful. A toast to all my sisters arriving and already in the autumn of life. May we all grow strong and wise; every blooming time more brilliant than the last. It is so comforting to know that we all walk the path separately, yet not alone.

  11. Sheila F   •  

    I needed to read this. I turn 53 in Dec and had been feeling low. I literally cried when I returned home a few weeks ago from the mall. I had drove 60 miles to find out I did not fit the profile of the average mall shopper. I was totally lost in the flux of teens, young career women and soccer mom’s who shop there. Just last night I had the thought that all would be OK because I am entering an honored space in my life cycle. I am so glad too learn that all this time I was feeling out of sorts,I was not alone. I wish I could give you a really big hug.

  12. Segretta   •  

    I am enjoying this reading in September, 2012…living into an “Indian Summer”, where it is “not too late” to be and do anything my heart desires (of the Father!). Joyful indeed of this season of life.

    At 65 years old, with 5 children, 16 grandchildren, 2 great grandchildren. I realize that no one knows, appreciates, or can even imagine my capacity for life, love and personal adventure.

    Love to all who bravely and innovatively, persist in their own dimension of life’s seasons.

    Thank you for weriting.

    Segretta

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