“And at once I knew…I was not magnificent.” This is the line of the Bon Iver song that played in my head again and again as I moved through 2012. It was something to do with turning 41 and looking about, forlorn that I had not become, achieved, bloomed in ways I always thought I would by then.
I recognized it as the unique privilege of my kind—upper middle class American—to be discontent with my present circumstances, though there was nothing inherently imperfect about them. I recognized it as a variety of ingratitude, beautiful as my family was and healthy, happy, thriving. But I didn’t have the discipline to resist it. It was a longing for—not youth, but perhaps the orientation I had then: everything ahead of me, every door open, life inviting me to bloom into all the ways one can be.
After a few months of this melancholy (which waxed and waned, of course, with the little joys I was still privy to), there was a choice to be made. I could either indulge this fairly contrived (albeit palpably felt) sadness, or I could turn my face to the sun, flower that I was. I could drink in its light and keep processing, transforming it into my own perfect energy, letting it grow me into the thing that I must certainly still be in the process of becoming.
41 or not, I was still growing, still learning, still blossoming. Healthy, whole, surrounded by love and family, I knew myself as more than magnificent even now, midway somehow to something I could not fathom. I knew myself as perfect and dazzling in that divine light and separated from the magnificence of the rest of humanity only by the thin membrane of imagined separateness. And so I dissolved it. In my mind’s eye I dissolved that fine veil that was always of my own creation, and I let myself merge into the current of all life. All beings. All earth. All language.
It was the way I saved myself. The way I extended every deadline I had ever imposed on myself. The way I learned to glisten again. It was not magic. Not anything special, really. Just a shift. In my belief about myself and the world I inhabit. In retrospect, it sounds so easy. It was not. And yet, it was possible. It took time, and it took a conscious effort, and I did it.
I still hear the song occasionally, and auditory memory makes my heart ache in the familiar way, but only for a moment, and then it passes. It goes the way of the self-doubt and disappointment I let go of. I’m nearly 42 now, and the sense of possibility is very much alive in me. My own children grow and change before my eyes, my marriage settles in to the stretch of twenty years and the sense of home that was always so elusive to me before, and I—I become quite fearless.
It’s not that I fear nothing. Those haunting fears of loss will always exist, as they must for every one who loves. But I move in a way that defies them. Refusing to let my lesser fears define me, I no longer wonder about my own worth in the face of the passage of time. I am, as I have told so many students they were over the years, perfect. Not in my words or my deeds, try as I might, but in my intention. And that is the magnificent.