Yesterday, I went to a cane syrup making event in my hometown. I went early in the day because my college’s football team is in the playoffs, and we had a big tailgaite party planned. I wasn’t about to miss it. It made for a long day, but I was promised biscuits if I came early and fresh-made cane syrup. I’d never been to this annual event, and my brothers have talked about it for years. I wanted to go and see what this redneck party was all about.
In a weird turn of weather, it was freezing. They were already cooking cane syrup in a cauldron about the size of the bed of a pickup truck when I arrived at about 8:30 AM. The heat from the bubbling, ember cane juice created a fog that made the scene look eery and mysterious. A sweet burning odor lingered around the whole area. I was a little taken aback when I first walked up because I was just about the only woman there. Men, dressed in camouflage, boots and coats, were cooking everywhere. My friend Clem poured white beans, ham hocks and veggies into a big cast iron pot where he’d continue to stir the rest of the morning. Others prepared pastalaya, smoked fresh meats and stirred gumbo. Biscuits, sausage and cane syrup were piled onto a table in the middle of the room where my dog stayed most of the day hoping for droppings of sausage. I felt … like I would remain … an outsider to this ritual.
I listened to my brother explain the process to his son. Sugar cane was harvested from the field that surrounded this tin shed, crushed to extract the cane juice from the sinewy inner chamber of the cane stalk and then cooked to thicken and remove impurities. Apparently the process starts the day before, and would end sometime yesterday. It was a simple process, but it took time, and it took a lot of hands. There were people skimming the top of the juice in the cauldron with wooden paddles to clear off debris and froth. Shrouded in fog, these stirrers looked like serious ghosts steadily focused on their task.
It’s been almost six months since I moved here. The move was unplanned but moved along like a supersonic train moving me down tracks that were laid ahead of me by unknown forces. My close friends assure me that I’m here for a reason. I’m past the “laying the foundation” phase of the move, and I’m starting to question how I fit in here in this place that is so familiar but so foreign to me. I’m also starting to get more than a little angry with myself about uprooting myself. I know that anger ultimately is an emotion that I feel when I don’t want to feel hurt, to feel the vulnerability of being human. I’m grappling with it all, and it’s really seemed to come to a head in the last few weeks. Work doesn’t fit. I can’t really find the community where I fit. Some days my lifestyle doesn’t seem to fit either. And I wonder if my belief system is even serving me at this point. A good friend told me last night that it was time to submit myself to whatever growth process was set in place when I moved here. Yesterday, I pictured myself as one of those stalks of cane as it is ripped from its very comfortable roots in the warm soil, thrown into a bin and fed into an extractor where it’s thick, hardened outer shell is broken and the tender inner core is squeezed in a painful process.
This blog is called Midlife Moments. I believe that I am here on a spiritual journey. I have a God of my own understanding that is the Director of this trip. I believe that He and I came up with a plan of what I needed to learn here on this lifelong seminar, and, together we are making our way through the lessons that were indicated for my spiritual growth. I believe in spiritual guides and fellow travelers who help me along the way – those mysterious shrouded stirrers who gather around to make sure that I transform in just the right way. They help me identify and skim the unwanted by-products in the process. I don’t believe this is a lonely journey. I believe that all is provided, but I believe there are moments when my insides are meant to burn… when what I’ve believed and thought to be true is exposed as just raw fodder that, when seasoned by the fires of life and experience and pain, is transformed into new beliefs. I believe that midlife is the ultimate cauldron. I believe in meeting it head on … with eyes wide open.
Technically, I’m probably past mid-life unless I live to be 104. When I look up midlife, the resources say it’s about 40 years old, give or take 20 years. That’s a large range. My growth process started in my 40s. I’d say I really started stripping beliefs and holding myself to the fire when I was about 42. So, I’ve been on this journey for about 10 years. I’ve also gone through menopause during this time. When I was researching peri-menopause because of the symptoms I was undergoing during this hormonal change, I found an author, Dr. Christine Northrup, who explained the midlife journey of women. She says that PMS is actually a monthly wake-up call of the issues in our life. With the wane of estrogen that precipitates the menstrual cycle, we experience a week or two window of how we might feel if we weren’t flooded with estrogen the rest of the month. Estrogen is the “nesting hormone,” and it causes us to place family and relationships first. If we don’t deal with the issues that call to us during PMS, when the flush of estrogen wanes at midlife, we are forced to either deal with the issues because of the unflinching emotional pain, or we numb ourselves out. It wasn’t too long ago that women died before menopause. This is new territory for us. I think men go through a similar journey with andropause. I believe it’s God’s way of helping us grow up and become who we are made to be after the initial draw to propogate the species.
I believe that midlife is more than one transforming event. Some people see the midlife crisis as an affair, a red convertible, or an expected divorce. I see all of those as tiny little symptoms of a transformative process. Like the sugar cane, there is a harvest time. The cane can sit in the field unchanged and begins its journey to decomposition and once again become part of the earth. It’s going to change anyway in decomposition. It’s just a slower, less colorful journey. The other option is to submit ourselves to a process with the help of a community of travelers to transform into something new. We all take our turns in a healthy community. One soul transforms with the support of others and then takes its seat as supporter – juicer, stirrer, fire or container. And, we take turns … and we process … over … and … over …and … over... until the final transformation to death. The heat … the fire … if you can stand it … deepens and hastens the transformation. From a solid to a liquid, the sugar cane juice evolves. I asked my friend how long the finished cane syrup would keep. “Oh, it will keep forever,” my friend replied. “I’ll take two of the big bottles, then,” I replied. I want transformations that last forever … the kind that are painful and sweet and visceral and packed with the love of a God and community and a ritual that lasts an eternity. I don’t like to sit in the field. I like to be washed in heat…..here I go again. Honestly, at times like these I wish I was a sissy.