by Rene Allen
June 10th was my birthday. I was 59. My mother now asks that if I am that old, then how old is she? FYI, she is 86 and entitled to the privilege of a few memory lapses.
I celebrated by staying home all day with the cats, Bunker the parrot and Chuck Norris, the desert tortoise who ambled into our yard a couple of weeks ago and now safely lives in our front patio. He was a birthday gift from the universe. A friend, Ann, who is deeply connected to Native American folklore, brought out her book of symbols. “Turtle is the oldest symbol for planet earth,” she read. “If you have chosen the Turtle symbol,” or, she added herself, I’m quite sure, “if Turtle has chosen you, you are being asked to honor the creative source within you . . . .
Furthermore, “Turtle warns of the dangers of “pushing the river . . . . The corn that is harvested before its time is not yet full. However, if it is given the chance to develop at its own rate, in its own season, its sweetness will be shared by all.” (Jamie Sams and David Carson, Medicine Cards, Bear and Company, 1988.)
At 59, I am anxious that I am too old to write, publish and sell a memoir. Then Chuck Norris, so named by our son, hangs out underneath one of our mesquite trees and brings this message about “pushing the river.”
There is another birthday I’m remembering just now. Sixteen years ago I was in the middle of a major life shake-up. A year and a half earlier, I’d discovered I had been sexually abused as a child. The intrusive, intensive emotion of memory had pushed me to a psychologist and was hammering at my family and career. For sanity, I worked with a trainer and was as physically fit as at any time in my life.
The work I did with the psychologist centered on listening to the little true-speaking voice that comes from your inner wisdom, a voice I had carefully rejected for years. After all, it had the memory of the abuse. However, when my brother-in-law asked my husband if he wanted to hike Paria Canyon in southern Utah, that little voice spoke up. “You go too,” it said.
“I want to go too,” I said. Then came my contrary voice, the rational, sane, careful one I used in my practice. You, go on a 4 day hike? With a backpack? You have a sore back. You weigh over 200 pounds. You don’t hike. This is insanity.
Dwight stared. My brother-in-law, Curtis Brown was delighted. “I’ve always wanted my wife to go,” he said. “And she never would. Are you sure?”
June 7, 1992, we left a car at Lee’s Ferry in Arizona then drove to the trailhead in Utah. My pack weighed 40 pounds, including a canteen for water.
The first day we walked 11 miles through a narrow, slot canyon. The smoothly polished red sandstone walls towered over us. There was no stopping until we got out of the first part of the canyon because a rain upstream could cause a flashflood with no place to climb for safety.
The next two days were the best of my life. I saw quick sand, seeps – where water bubbles to the surface from a high water table, a natural bridge, a cave. My own two feet took me to these places and my back was strong.
On June 9th, we camped at a place called Shower Springs. A natural spring dripped out of the canyon wall which was covered with a thick curtain of ferns. The water was icy cold. I bathed in it and washed my hair in some my husband had thoughtfully heated over our small camp stove. Overhead was the sky of my childhood before light pollution. Millions of stars stretched endlessly across a black and cloudless sky. I was almost asleep, drowsy and content when that little voice spoke again. “Thank you for giving me my life back,” it said distinctly. Yes, I thought, and tears came to my eyes because it felt so good to be alive. And tomorrow was my birthday.
Every year since, I celebrate my life. At some point, I say to myself that I am glad I have this life, and thank-you for living it the best way possible. I made a promise to myself in Paria Canyon, that I would take life in both my hands and live it. Today, as I write I remember how strongly I felt this, that seeing, feeling, smelling, tasting, hearing were only starting points in the immersion of all the events, people, and opportunities that came my way, and that what I did with them was how I lived and celebrated who I was.
I want to sing Happy Birthday. Happy Birthday to me, and to everyone who has heard her own little voice say “Thank you for giving me my life back.”