by Cathee Poulsen
“I have aged…My skin has the crinkled appearance of wax paper that someone has tried to flatten and reuse. My eyes fail me often—in the darkness, when headlights flash, when rain falls. It is unnerving, this new unreliability in my vision. Perhaps that’s why I find myself looking backward. The past has a clarity I can no longer see in the present.” ~ The Nightingale, by Kristin Hannah
Last night as the timer lit the lights on the deck railing, the lavender twilight caught me away to a series of moments that brought both tears and laughter. I guess I’m getting a bit nostalgic as I turn 74 this month and I couldn’t help but linger on the richness of the life I’ve lived.
What are our lives except a series of experiences strung together in sequence, some of which we remember with shame or regret, but by far, ones we remember with joy and pride? At least those are the ones I choose to dwell on these days.
When I get fearful or things get complicated, I remind myself of this verse:
Then I say, “It’s okay, Cathee. The Lord has brought you this far and He won’t quit now.
Looking Back with a Smile
May almost always recalls the hot morning near the end of sixth grade that I decided to pick a gardenia from the back yard and pin it to my white Peter Pan collar before I set out for school. I don’t remember any time before that day that I intentionally “dressed up” before school. The smell of gardenias never fails to bring forth that memory of me innocent and on the cusp of ending one season and crossing over that summer to another.
Walking into the chapel at Riverside Baptist Church, April 11 1959, to see the entire front by the platform covered wall to wall with flower arrangements for my sister’s funeral. My six young male friends the pallbearers, the man who led me to Christ – Dr. James Parrish – officiating, and my white pique dress. Everything else is a blur. I will always be a sister.
The first time Bob Poulsen kissed me and how different it was from what I’d expected. Four years older than me, a man about town of 20, and I only 16, I don’t know what I expected. It just wasn’t the very sweet tender kiss I received in the back seat of Dick Perkins Bonneville going over Biscayne Bay on the Venetian Causeway. I melted then. Still do.
Me at Florida State, in bed one night, all the lights out in Bryan Hall, when from down on the ground between the buildings, in perfect harmony, the male voices float up in the darkness to our window,
The girl of my dreams is the sweetest girl
Of all the girls I know…
The blue of her eye and the gold of her hair
Are a blend of the western sky
And the moonlight beams on the girl of my dreams
She’s the sweetheart of Sigma Chi
I never discovered who the lucky girl was they singled out that night, but the moment has lasted.
Three years later, Bob and I kneeling by our bed in the honeymoon suite at Key Biscayne Hotel, telling Jesus we wanted our lives to center around Him. That nothing else mattered more than that. And how we’ve kept that promise.
The morning I left the hospital in LaMirada California and they wheeled me by the nursery window. A nurse held up the bundle wrapped in soft pink. No name. Me shut down and bleeding inside, pretending I would be just fine. Wondering who would care for her. It’s one of those moments you never forget.
And then 20 months later holding a tiny newborn with light red fuzz all over his head, knowing no one would ever take him away from me. He got the love of two children and who knew someday they would be friends. How can one even imagine these things at the time?
Passing the academy recently where my kids went to school and feeling that deep ache rise in my heart. Such joy every morning when I dropped them off, Journey playing on the radio, them so excited to see friends, the basketball games. Before the hard days rolled in.
The memories crowd my thoughts like bees in the apple orchard at autumn, but time constraints limit the telling. I’ll never run short of past experiences that still bring a smile, like walking into the lobby at Port of the Islands and pausing to listen to 150 women chattering away, enjoying their overnight for the women’s retreat, anticipating what the Lord will do over the next 24 hours. Knowing I envisioned this and now experiencing it.
Waiting at Southwest Regional Airport for the flight that would finally bring that first baby to my arms, after a 40 year separation, as one friend described “Imagine the racket in heaven Saturday night when angels fill the concourse, the din of flapping wings joining in hundred-part harmony of song, and it all rises from the ashes as Dori walks that birth canal between the plane and your arms.”
Weekends on Little Marco Island, Kate lighting the kerosene lanterns along the screened-in hallway, the bonfire outside, us girls celebrating communion together, then enjoying a meal compared to no other because of our tropical setting at the island house.
The publication of my first book. Holding it in my hand, tears flowing. The first time Dori called me “Mom.” My 50th Anniversary party with everyone present.
Worshipping with 13,000 others in Gwinnett Arena at Catalyst. No sound like that one, joy rising as we sing “Oh, I’m running to Your arms…”
Texas standing in morning’s early light, holding a paper bag with her clothing in it, and Pierce, arms flung out as he runs to her, me knowing she is finally free, not only from the metal bars but her past.
Watching my three sons, each of them craftsmen in their own fields, do their work with such excellence it leaves me breathless.
There is a sweetness as we age that softens the hard edges of our pain and loss. We are less likely to take things so seriously, things that never really mattered in the first place. And if we have matured in the love of Christ, knowing Him better, receiving His favor, we are able to bestow it on others with gladness.
I no longer fear getting older. My hair is almost gray now and I don’t look like I did at 16 or 25 or 40. I am not middle-aged. I am in the twilight of my life. And that’s where this very long trail of memories began.
May you find joy in what you have learned, the people you’ve met along the way, the friends who remain dear, the precious members of your family, and the experiences you’ve had with God. This life is not all there is, my friend. And the best wine is always saved until last.