The Third Chapter

I’ve been thinking a lot about the words what now.What now that I’ve realized my dream of living close to the land and having my own vegetable garden? What now that Dave and I are “empty nesters”? What now do I want to contribute ? What dreams have I set aside that I should resume?

These questions nag at me as I go about my tasks on the ranch—weeding, harvesting, preparing for the fall rush of yard work. There are all the bulbs to go into the ground and into containers, the five hundred daffodils I plant each year, the composting and mulching. It’s easy to get lost in all this busy-ness, but the days are getting shorter. I feel the urgency of time running out. My heart almost seems to beat with the word now. Do it now.

So I’ve turned to those wiser than I for answers. One such person is Sara Lawrence-Lightfoot, the Harvard scholar and educator. In her book The Third Chapter, she talks about the importance of meeting the challenges of this stage of life.

Taking her cues from the psychologist Erik Erikson’s eight stages of development, Lawrence-Lightfoot makes a convincing argument that the crises we face at this point must be resolved, or we will find ourselves always looking backward and falling into despair.

Not really a place I want to go.

As I rake leaves and fertilize bulbs, I think of my other dreams, some of them long abandoned. Are they still there, lying dormant in some part of my consciousness? Will I be able to find them?

As I write this, I remember the boxes I’d set on the closet shelf when we first moved in. I guess, you could say they were dreams tied up in ribbon to be opened later.

I get up from the desk, take the boxes from the closet and set them on the bed.

I feel, as I open them, the way you might feel opening the box that holds your wedding dress from forty years ago, thinking of all your hopes when you first wore it, wondering if it still fits.

But the boxes do not hold my wedding dress, or old love letters or my daughter’s baby clothes. They hold my novels, pages I’d written in odd, captured moments between teaching and raising a family. I always meant to do something with them later.

Sitting in my bedroom in the warm stillness of a mid-September afternoon, I notice the sun lighting up the last blue delphiniums in the window box. After a while, I hear the quail, down from their nests in the live oaks, begin to scratch and squabble in the newly, mowed grass.

I look for a long time at those hundreds of pages tied in silk ribbon.

Later, I realize, is now.

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