Personal Essay

Rites Of Passage – Part 7

By Gaia Woolf-Nightingall

Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4, Part 5, Part 6

My partner Dominic had just completed his Ph.D. at Swansea University and had unexpectedly been offered a job at Cornell University, in Ithaca NY.  A university of such prestige that even here in this little corner of Wales, you could not have failed to have heard of its name. We were very reticent to leave our snug little blue cottage in Wales, to travel thousands of miles to a new country and essentially begin anew.

Professor Lehman in the crop and soil science department at Cornell was very insistent on having Dominic join his team. And so he proposed to Dominic that he visit Ithaca, and try to gain a sense of whether he would really like to work here or not. And so it was that Dominic traveled to America.

I was in the middle of my weekly grocery shopping routine, standing in front of the produce aisle when Dominic called me on my cell phone. His enthusiasm for Ithaca was on full display and melted across the space between us down into my ears. He wanted to give it a shot, a new adventure could await us if I was to only say yes.

It is quite amusing for me now, to look back at that moment, I was standing in the middle of a grocery store, throngs of people were busying around me. I took a mental sidestep out of the situation and allowed the sounds of the world around me to quieten down.

My thoughts settled first onto the face of my Grandmother, Anne Nightingall. Anne was born in the busy market town of Chorley, Lancashire in the year 1919. Despite the relative poverty of the family into which she was born, the comfort of her strong familial bonds, faith, and community sustained her.

During the 1940s when the world was in the throes of a tragic war, my grandmother and her friends decided, one fine evening, to go out to a local drinking spot for a night of fun and light relief from the horrors of the times. In the pub, sat at a table in the corner of the room, my grandmother spied the handsome visage of a dark-haired soldier. He was in the company of an attractive blonde lady, enjoying her disarming charms.

I cannot pretend to know what went through my grandmother’s mind at that moment, as she saw the soldier and the lady sat enjoying each other’s conversation. But I would hazard a guess, that as the flame of attraction towards the soldier grew within her heart, my grandmother felt compelled to act.

She brazenly walked over to the soldier and introduced herself, she informed him that the lady he was with was a lady of ill repute and that perhaps he would like to join her and her friends instead. I thought about this singular moment, in which my grandmother made a choice,  riding on a wave of intuition, feeling, and of desire, she followed her heart, and because of this, her whole life coalesced, though, that one moment in time and was irrevocably changed. The soldier became her husband, my mother’s father, and my grandfather.

I reached deep into the recesses of my soul and I felt the emotions stir within me, bubbling, rising, I thanked my grandmother for the inspiration. Involuntary tears welled up into my eyes and blurred my vision, but I knew what they meant, yes, it was time for a new adventure!

And so it was in my fortieth year that I would move to America! I was taking yet another leap of faith, guided by instinct, feeling, and the daring of an ancestor. This would be a road worth traveling. It was time to collect a new and exciting tale to add to my library of experience.

“And suddenly you just know…It’s time to start something new and trust the magic of new beginnings.”— Meister Ekhart

Gathering our thoughts, our belongings, and saying goodbye to family, friends and a life well spent in the UK, was, as you can only imagine, a long and arduous process. Even after you have decided to climb a new mountain, and are daydreaming about the potentially treacherous paths ahead, you are spun into the stark realization of the deep challenges of preparation. For it is an exhausting, emotionally, and physically draining rehearsal of what is to come. We held firm, however, throughout the long process, to the vision of the palace, that was surely waiting for us at the top of our climb.

I had been by now, and for a number of months experiencing an erratic moon cycle and the very unwelcome pain of migraine headaches. These unwanted creatures of torture had plagued my youth but had until now been confined to the trash heap of a troubled past.

I paid as little attention as possible, I wanted to believe that the stress of such a huge move, was playing out this way on my physical body and I convinced myself that such things were a natural response to such sweeping life changes.

“To appreciate the beauty of a snowflake it is necessary to stand out in the cold.”- Aristotle

My feet touched the ground once more, but this time they touched the sweet earth of a new continent. We had arrived in Ithaca, Upstate NY, on a bitterly cold January night. British Wintertime could never have really prepared us for the kind of cold, that now seeped through every pore, sinking down into the very marrow of our bones.

Winters in Ithaca are a dazzling sight of sparkling snow-covered horizons, stretched out for as far as the eye can see. Dense wild forests glow in the muted sunlight like jeweled carpets stretched thin across the land. Hidden gems can be found in the multitude of frozen, sculpted waterfalls that are a unique feature of the panorama. The Elements here are, exuberant, delightfully free-spirited, and unrepentant.

As I surveyed my new home State I was both delighted and apprehensive. And thankfully we soon found a quirky rental home in the heart of the Fall Creek district of the downtown area.

Today my daughter set forth on her first day of school. I watched, as she took her first tentative steps towards the gates of a brand new life. I steadied my nerves, I did not want her to see the proud tear, that was escaping down my left cheek. I waved and smiled at her, she did not hesitate or look back towards me. Cheerfully she walked in through the front entrance of Fall Creek Elementary school.

My moon cycle was beginning to change, slow, like ever decreasing circles, month by month. I realized that it was probably time to accept the obvious truth, I was in the process of my menopausal shift.

I was relatively young still, only in my early forties, but my body had wisdom that only it knew of, acceptance of this was the key to a positive journey through the changing mechanisms of my body and mind, and I knew it. And so I decided it was prudent to embrace fully this new rite of passage, I was beginning the journey towards the Crone Goddess of wisdom’s court.

“One woman is a tiny divine spark in a timeless sisterhood tapestry collective; all of us are Wild Women.” – Jan Porter

As my daughter matured through her teenage years. I negotiated my way through the changing landscape of my physical body. Sometimes it was painful, often uncomfortable, and sometimes emotive in nonlogical sequences.

I was a step out of time with my most of my friends, old and new. And although we were all of equal age, they had not, for the most part, begun to experience the birthing of the new age within themselves as I had. I felt alone in my experience, except that is, for the always constant companions of my life’s journey.

The natural elements journeyed with me and mirrored my most ardent feelings. The wind seemed to howl and groan as I did when unexpected waves of anxiety overwhelmed my sense of peace. The rain seemed to pour down forever, in sheer curtains of water, when I was overcome with grief at the loss of my fertile years. The sun, shone down ever brightly, illuminating all that was before me when, in a rare joyful moment I could once again, look forward and find my footing on the path to a bountiful future, and the Earth held me firm underfoot when my heart floated adrift of reason and was in need of deep roots and comfort.

As I walked through the garden of rebirth, my daughter blossomed into the wise, wild, and gloriously unique individual that only she could become.

A woman shape-shifted into view before my very eyes. It seemed to me beautifully poetic, as my daughter became a woman I would become the Crone, full of the marvel of experience, able and ready to be a loving guide to her through her blossoming years. Even as I felt this and knew it to be true, I had my struggles, and sometimes they were acute. I  lived in a society that to its shame and dishonor, did not yet wholly recognize the value inherent in the heart of an Elder women.

“We cannot become what we need to be by remaining what we are.”- Max de Pree

It was not, however, until early one Summer’s day, as I gathered at a Red tent event, with sister-friends, that I began to understand the full sanctity of, and gifts that change of life was offering to me.

We entered into the womb of the rent tent, through a haze of cleansing Sage smoke. One by one we took our place, and seated ourselves upon small square cushions or, sat down cross-legged on the cold red brick floor. In the center of the tent was a small wooden altar, brightly lit by an overabundance of mismatched candles, which were interspersed with sharp-edged crystals, various oracle cards, and Goddess images. Silently we stared at the scene and waited until the entrance to the tent was closed over, and the warmth of our bodies filled the spaces between us.

We gathered once a month like this, honoring the cycles of the moon, that we understood to be intimately connected to the cycles of our own bodies. The Red Tent represented our sacred wombs, our sisterhood, when we entered, we were symbolically returning to the safety and protection of our Mother’s womb, to the sanctuary of the Goddess.

The Red Tent was a place where we were free to speak our truths, and we were encouraged to listen deeply to each other’s stories and the wisdom of their teachings.

Jhenah, a red tent sister picked up the sacred talking stick from off the center of the altar and passed it to the woman on her left. Whosoever held the talking stick, was given the freedom to speak, uninterrupted and the sacred duty of those who sat in witness was to listen.

Around the circle, the talking stick was passed. Woman after woman shared her experiences and the energy of their stories wove an invisible, golden blanket of energy around us. The shining threads of each new tale spun brighter, and brighter, solidifying our connection, and the universal voice of all women as one.

The sisters in the circle spoke of their physical and emotional cycles, of the rites of passage that had made each one of them the heroines of their own mystical journey. We were all women who had fought and bled and birthed and nurtured.

I felt a sudden sensation in the pit of my stomach, I knew myself to no longer be a woman who bled or birthed, not in the physical sense, these sacred things were now behind me, no longer my present reality.

The sensation in my stomach grew and at first, it felt like the deep pain of longing, a lingering memory of what once was rising within my body. I fought the urge to wail out loud and I was afraid. It was then, that the talking stick appeared before me, I breathed out a long slow sigh.

Trembling, I took the stick firmly into my grasp and began to open my mouth, I tried to speak.

As I did so instead, a quiet sob gently fell from my open mouth and landed onto the golden blanket of energy surrounding our bodies, and it was then, that I felt the soft pulse of a steadying thread of energy glide up from the blanket, pass gently into my body and calm my soul.

I felt the loving touch of the collective, and behind my body, I could sense the shadowy presence of my grandmother, and her grandmother, and her grandmother’s mother, they placed their ethereal arms around my shoulders and it was only then, at that moment, that I finally understood.

For seven years I had been transforming, been living in the throes of a metamorphosis. I was being reborn, initiated into the great halls of my grandmother’s court. My womb was ripe with the knowledge and understanding that only experience could bring.

A rite of passage was concluding here and now, in the final moments of fruition, solidifying in this circle. My ancestors and my sisters bore witness. I heard my grandmother’s voice raised in laughter, cheering, and encouraging me on.

I leaned into a deeper truth. No longer was I burdened by the often, superficial cares of my youth. I could see through the fog of confusion, that had, for so long stood between my authentic nature and my true purpose. My sovereign self cried out the rallying cry of victory, of freedom.

And so I had to speak and  I spoke. I spoke of a life long-lived, and of the cycles and seasons that had guided my path to this moment. I spoke of the choices I had made and of the sovereignty that resides in the fulfillment of passions. I spoke of the rites of passage that had guided me through each chapter of my life, and of the deep sense of privilege I felt to be alive, still, traveling on this journey, when so many I had known,were no longer. Seven years I had labored through the change of life, and now here I was, liberated and strong.

I felt like an eagle soaring high above the clouds, my vision extended far and wide. I could see the past and the present, and I understood what joy my future still held for me.

Forgetting what I thought I had lost and knowing now only what I had gained. Sitting here, where I could continue to feel the warm sun on my face, the wild wind in my hair, the refreshing rain on my arms, and the comforting Earth beneath my feet. I could always trust the natural rhythms of the world within and without me. Accepting that, change is the only constant in the universe and the only thing that any of us can ever be assured of.

And so today I am fifty years old, and perhaps it is time for a brand new adventure.

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