Long ago (at least, it seems a long time ago), prior to entering into this strange process of discerning God's will for me in particular, I felt the call to step outside of myself to engage in activities that tested the boundaries that I had drawn so carefully around me. Of course, most of this experimentation went on in my mind rather than in any actual doing or being.
One poem struck me, stayed with me and remains on my desk today: Jenny Joseph's poem which begins with the line "When I am an old woman, I shall wear purple." The actual name of the poem is "Warning."
When I first read it, I did not consider myself any way close to an "old woman". I suppose many would say (me included on some days) that I am much closer to that label now than I was then. The poem seemed to me to be courageous, something that I never felt I could do…ever.
I was a timid child, almost to the point of being socially paralyzed. I know that not many believe it now but it was true then. Seriously!
I overcame that so far as being able to speak out, yet inside, stepping outside of what I knew, it was just not something that I could do. It affected many parts of my life, stalling me in many ways.
I grew up wanting to be a missionary preacher but by the time I was old enough to do that, the church as I knew it and I had already parted ways...not that I could have even had I stayed. I thought about the Peace Corp but when it got right down to thinking seriously about going into a foreign country with total strangers, I was struck numb.
I suppose that falling in love with Debbie gave me more courage than I could ever have imagined. Having something to stand up for gave me a sense of being that I had never before felt. Living into what I am became a bigger reality than living within the boundaries that I had drawn around myself. Leaping over the fences created by me, I realized another barrier: I had built my fences within a perimeter defined by society. Yet with my newfound courage built by love, I was able to see that the barriers were human made, not ones created by God.
Isn't it strange how difficult it is to break out of our own self-imposed limitations yet how much easier it is to strain against the confines of a ruling body? When we set our own limitations, we justify these with all sorts of excuses – I am too young/old, short/tall, skinny/fat, poor/rich, tired/busy – any excuse will do and is set in the concrete of our individual minds. Yet restrictions set by somebody else's moral code, even if that someone else is society at large, can easily be deemed judgmental, harsh and in great need of change.
The major difference, I suppose, is that the first fence is the one we set and deep inside of us, we know we can break it down when and if we need to do so. It is as much of a protection fence as it is a limiting one. But when others set restrictions upon us, we feel that bile begin to back up in our throats, burning, causing great discomfort. We can try to adjust our lives to that point at which we can live within the limits but the problem is always there. The only way to rid ourselves of the discomfort is to address the thing causing the problem. That means changing something in our lives.
The problem is this: unless we are highly motivated to change, we are afraid to live into our imagination. Because we are afraid of change, we are not able to eliminate our own boundaries much less recognize the limitations set by a society living in fear of that which could be. If we are not able to embrace change as a good thing, we cannot grow. And of course, we all know that if we do not grow, we become stagnant and begin to wither and die.
While I have much growing to do, I am no longer stunted. I do not want to wait until I am an old woman to realize that I can live into my imaginings – more honest than that – I can not wait to live into God's imaginings FOR me. I may not wear a "red" hat or spend my pennies on brandy or summer gloves and such, but I can live my life in a manner which defies "normal" common logic. For I believe God's will for me is nowhere near what can be perceived as common, logical or "normal".
When I am an old woman I shall wear purple
With a red hat which doesn't go, and doesn't suit me.
And I shall spend my pension on brandy and summer gloves
And satin sandals, and say we've no money for butter.
I shall sit down on the pavement when I'm tired
And gobble up samples in shops and press alarm bells
And run my stick along the public railings
And make up for the sobriety of my youth.
I shall go out in my slippers in the rain
And pick flowers in other people's gardens
And learn to spit.
You can wear terrible shirts and grow more fat
And eat three pounds of sausages at a go
Or only bread and pickle for a week
And hoard pens and pencils and beermats and things in boxes.
But now we must have clothes that keep us dry
And pay our rent and not swear in the street
And set a good example for the children.
We must have friends to dinner and read the papers.
But maybe I ought to practice a little now?
So people who know me are not too shocked and surprised
When suddenly I am old, and start to wear purple.
Jenny Joseph (1961)