My 200-year present
I recently heard a theory about how we each live in a 200-year span of history.
You mark the beginning of your span, your “200-year present,” by thinking of the oldest person who could have held you as a baby (my great grandmother, born in 1900). You mark your span’s end by estimating the potential lifespan of the youngest person in your extended family that you have held (my 3-year-old nephew).
I estimate that my 200-year present is actually 215 years, from 1900-2115.
This concept has helped me understand my role – and my impact – within my family and the greater world.
A False Calm
Six weeks ago I got Botox for the first time.
I’ve always had good skin, a genetic gift found in my ancestry goodie bag, nestled between debilitating anxiety and alcoholic tendencies. (A mixed bag, for sure.) But gravity, sun damage and pharmaceutical marketing are powerful forces. So after years of trying to convince myself that I should love my laugh lines and complaining about how our culture doesn’t value age, especially in women, I swallowed all my feminist sentiments and shot my face up with botulism.
Of course it worked. I love it.
This is the world I live in – that we live in – a world of unceasing contradictions and tension. Some days I want to save the world, and some days I want to buy a pretty pair of shoes. But what I never, ever want to do is just be in the world – accept it, love it, and be content with what it is.
For 45 years of my 215-year span, I have worked to control and arrange things – to be successful in this Culture of More that is our current collective reality. Powered by a high-octane fuel of anxiety and fear, I got quite a bit done. Degrees, marriage, house, babies, jobs. My list has a lot of checked boxes.
But the fuel of fear and anxiety was eating me up. My alcoholic tendencies were flourishing. I stopped drinking, but cannot seem to stop trying to control and arrange things. My mind buzzes with thoughts of what might lie ahead. How do I adequately prepare myself and my family for the future? How do I make preparations – how do I get things done – without my toxic fuel?
Botox was like a shot of tequila for my face – it artificially and temporarily smoothed out my external edges. But now my outsides most definitely do not match my insides. My face displays a false calm while my mind continues to buzz. Serenity eludes me.
In the world. Not of the world.
My great grandmother converted to Catholicism as a teenager. Seeking serenity from her own century’s demons, she found it sitting in the back of a neighborhood church while she waited for friends to finish their weekly confessions. Converting to Catholicism against her family’s wishes was a radical act of self-love and a defining moment within her 200-year span. I know that this act sustained her throughout her long life because whenever she held me and my many cousins, she also held her rosary.
This is the 117th year of my 215-year present and I am painfully aware of my place in time and what is passed from generation to generation. I want to pass down a key to contentment, but where do I buy that? Organized religion holds as much appeal for me as botulism injections may have held for my great grandmother. And is not lost on me that both of them, organized religion and Botox, are part of a patriarchal structure that crosses way too many generational spans. They can be trappings and traps – distractions from the truth of our own worthiness, our own beauty.
At the heart of what has been passed down to me – and what I hope my own great granddaughter recognizes early in her life – is that the unyielding search for serenity is our common gift, passed down from many, many grandmothers. And along with this gift comes an understanding that while we are in the world, we are not of the world. These truths, and making our peace with them, allows us to just be in the world – accept it, love it, and be content with what it is.
Erin W. lives in Virginia where she has been working on and blogging about recovery since 2013. After years of trying to do recovery alone, she discovered the beauty of connection and friendship through She Recovers in 2017.