When I turned four, an older sister told me I’d be all grown up at five. On the day I reached that ripe old age, I realized she’d been dead wrong and was outraged.
At twenty I remember thinking, When I am 25 I’ll know myself and be self-assured in public. When neither happened, I’d at least become wise enough to stop setting arbitrary dates for maturation and self-awareness.
Along the way I’ve envied the self-assurance of trees, flowers, birds and animals. An iris is an iris. It shoots up for a few glorious days, and fades away obediently. The top of a redwood disappears into the sky, displaying its innate strength and elegance unseen. A bougainvillea knows to cascade in unselfconscious splendor, an orange tree bears oranges, a mockingbird is a born mimic, and a mourning dove, surely misnamed, has no idea that her beautiful life affirming coo is mournful.
Such living things are simply being themselves. They don’t worry about who or where they are, where they came from, or where they’re going. Just so the tortoise who plods along day to day, supremely satisfied with his slow pace and the captivity of his own shell. He doesn’t wonder if he’s doing it right, he doesn’t strain against his confinement or try to speed up. Once, confounded by the inertia of a family pet, I wrote a book about a turtle who wanted to fly. Sheer fantasy down to the helpful rabbit and irritating squirrel. I never wrote another book in which talking animals had human aspirations, however. It seemed an invasion of an animal’s dignity to present it in ways counter to its own perfect reality. That’s not to say that I’m not enchanted by stories with bats that read books or spiders that befriend pigs. And it’s clear that children love to think of their world in this fanciful way and can often better identify with these amazing wild creatures, that can seem, for a little while, just like themselves.
As I grow older I continue to struggle to know myself – my strengths, my weaknesses, and my abilities. Though I definitely have a clearer picture of what I have accomplished in the past, there is still some doubt as to what I can accomplish in the future or if there will be enough time for all I’d like to complete. Of course none of us at any time in our lives knows the answer to these two conundrums. But they become more imperative as challenges increase. Even those lifeless rock formations to which I am eternally drawn, display a sense of rightness and place and history that astounds me. When I have the sense to stop questioning so much and to emulate the trees and flowers and animals, and, yes, the rocks, for a little while everything becomes so much easier.