This time of year always makes me think of the day almost twenty years ago when I was wheeled into a community hospital during a blizzard to give birth. After three days of labor, a delivery, and the amazement that I had brought an entire human being into existence, I emerged into the resurrecting embrace of springtime to go home. As ten-foot piles of snow melted, the roads were finally clear of ice, and the gentle sun sent rays to the slowly warming earth. When I think of that day, I most clearly remember crossing the threshold between the hospital’s boxy, dim interior and the boundless blue of the sky outside. At that instant, I was transformed from my childless, self-focused and contemplative self into one side of a family triangle, a bond between endless generations, and fierce mover on my child’s behalf in the outer world. In all my months of planning everything I needed to care for a newborn, never once did I think of how to prepare for this exquisitely personal and powerful rite of initiation in my own life.
Those moments, those times when we shed the mantle of an old way of being and step into a new one, are so powerful that they are often the focus of stories and myths retold for millennia. In one of my favorites, the Shinto Sun Goddess Amaterasu shuts herself away in a cave when her brother ravishes her land. She lives like a hermit, while outside winter descends. Amaterasu eventually looks into a mirror and is delighted by her transcendent, shining reflection. Unable to hide herself away anymore, she steps back into the light and responsibility of the revitalized world outside. This story is echoed in rituals from around the world in which the participant is shown herself in a mirror to recognize her own divinity.
Too often I find I quickly pass through moments of transition in order to rush into some overly anticipated new phase of life. Yet it is at these instants between one season and another, or when one life task—such as a job or raising a child—is over and the next not yet begun, that I have the time and perspective to look into both the past and the future to see clearly if I am where I truly want to be. These can be times of great peace, well being, and understanding. I just need to take the time to savor them.
Perhaps I overlook the value of transitional moments. Too often I perceive that I can only be remade by some life experience, destined person, or divine intervention outside myself, sometimes sought but many times unexpected. Too often I think of myself as a river, flowing toward a far-off ideal, zigging and zagging without control. A chance meeting means I no longer will be lonely, or a book with just the right information or ideas falls into my hands, improving my live at just the right moment.
However, what if I am not a river, but am, instead, a sun that can shine brightly on myself, bringing into consciousness aspects that had been hidden, waiting to burst through into being? What if I am like Amaterasu who brought herself from the darkness of the cave into the light of the world by seeing herself reflected by her own sunlight? Maybe falling in love or being inspired is just a mirror that reveals one of my own treasured selves that I had never seen.
As I think about it, every lasting transformation in my life has led to my feeling more like myself, not as if I had become someone I had not been before. Opportunities have come to me by catching a glimpse of myself as someone I would like to be and taking steps to become her. First, I was a mid-western college student who turned into an East Village punk poetess. Then I became a New England small town mom and herb gardener. Each was me, but none defined me forever. I think, maybe, that all the women I am could never be contained in the small life I imagine for myself most of the time.
Early spring is a perfect time to change from our old winter selves to new spring beings; the glistening snow that turned to brown slush is ready to melt into groundwater the quenches the seeds of blossoming selves. When, like Amaterasu, I turn my face from winter to spring, I can make a conscious and free decision to bring a piece of myself that I have been nurturing into the bright light of reality. Instead of waiting for an invitation from someone else, we can all take this season to step confidently into life’s chaotic bustle because that is where our voices are needed: in the workplace where we finally speak our minds in meetings: or on an art gallery wall where we exhibit the works we have been painting in secret for thirty years: or at a City Council meeting where we speak out loud what we have been whispering in private.
We can also be mirrors for others in their springtime self-turning. In my work at a community center, people tell me that I most benefit them when I encourage them to express themselves and to use their life experiences to achieve what they have always wanted. One person, having always yearned to teach, now tutors young children. Another restarted an acting career in her seventies by doing commercials. Perhaps we also should consider how we can be mirrors to women near and far, finding ways to support and celebrate their talents, persistent hopes, and hard labors. We can do this by buying their work or listening to the words of their hearts in their poetry, music, art, or any other expression.