“I’ve done my best work, really, my most important work, from the ages of maybe 57 to now.” That quote is from the poetic writer and musician Patti Smith, 72, in a recent interview with the New York Times.
That quote struck a chord and affirmed what I’ve been feeling as I head into this new stage of life. I turned 57 yesterday, and I can tell you that I believe, God willing, I will be able to say the same as Patti when I reach 72. I believe my most important work is ahead of me. I am talking about in addition to THE most important work of mother and wife, which would be enough if that was my only work in this life.
Still, 57 feels amazing, feels like a beginning. On the morning of my birthday, Chiara, 14, asked if I felt any different, and I responded, without hesitation, “Yes!” Which would not be my typical response, but I could feel it coming, building as this new age approached. I feel entitled to my life, whatever it may look like going forward, and not just any life but life as I am meant to live it — exactly as I am, with no apologies for who I am. And that, my friends, is the moment I have been waiting for my whole life.
So, yes, I feel fierce and fearless at 57. But what does that mean? It’s more than the words suggest. Fierce implies potential anger, but this kind of fierce is not about anger. Passion yes, anger no. This new feeling of fierceness is about knowing who I am, what I stand for, and where I will or will not go spiritually, emotionally, physically simply because someone or something else demands it of me. I will protect the True Self God gave me and follow that course and no one else’s. Fierce.
Now what about “fearless”? Can anyone really be fearless? This isn’t about never being afraid or never worrying. There’s a great quote from Nelson Mandela that sums it up: “I learned that courage was not the absence of fear, but the triumph over it. The brave man is not he who does not feel afraid, but he who conquers that fear.”
That’s what I’m talking about. Feel the fear and do it anyway. Try that job that scares you, find a way to adapt or leave a job that crushes your soul, take that class you’ve been wanting to take for years, reconnect on a deeper level with your spouse or a child, book that flight to the place you dream of visiting, go on a retreat and spend time in complete silence and discover who you are.
Really, I think silence is key to reaching this place on the path. We have to sit in silence, sometimes uncomfortable silence, to hear the Still, Small Voice that will tell us where we need to go, who we are meant to be. I know your life is busy and a retreat seems impossible. Not so. Find a way. Even if it’s only for one day. Go somewhere, maybe even a tent pitched at a quiet campsite, and unplug your phone and just be. And when you just be, and you don’t feel the need to say what you think you need to say or do what you think the world expects you to do; you will find bliss, you fill find Spirit, you will find your True Self.
And when you find your True Self, the person God created you to be, you will feel fierce and fearless because you will know you have a power within you that is unstoppable. That’s not to say life won’t throw you a curve and try to crush you again; it will. But with this new knowledge, this new confidence, this new interior silence, you will face whatever comes and know you will survive, maybe even thrive.
I have another quote hanging in my office, a favorite from St. Joan of Arc — talk about fierce and fearless — and it says: “I am not afraid. I was born to do this.” Find what you were born to do, and do not be afraid. Fierce and fearless feels fabulous. Don’t tell the younger folks, but old age is where it’s at. It’s where all the wisdom is hiding. We just need to dig around and grab it.