In Anderson Cooper’s poignant tribute to his mother, Gloria Vanderbilt, this week he mentioned a quote that made him think of his mother. It is from a book by Mary Gordon: “A fatherless girl thinks all things are possible and nothing is safe.”
I am not a fatherless girl, but this quote speaks to me. Perhaps my connection to it comes from the fact that my relationship to my father has always been fraught. I have basically not had a direct relationship within him since I was eighteen, and when I did live under his roof our interactions were marred by financial stress, violence and emotional abuse. So while I’m not exactly fatherless, I have for most of my life reacted to a vacuum rather than a presence. Across the spectrum of experience, it has shaped who I am.
But it’s the poetry of “all things are possible and nothing is safe” that speaks to me. My life is a fairy-lit path, and I do live in constant wonder at just how many things are possible. It’s been a study in the improbable: an undocumented girl who’s gone on to live a life of grace and beauty. Living into the reality that all things are possible is not just magical thinking, though, it is a state of mind. The world can still regularly surprise me. I can get my heart broken completely time and again because every time I fall in love I lean into it with everything, forgetting that the void still exists beneath it. But then I can also see miracles unfurl like rich, fragrant blossoms.
The other side of it is that nothing feels safe. I have some good news brewing, still too early to report. And I’m enjoying the heck out of it. But I am also looking around corners for hidden dangers, trying hard to figure out how to make all the right choices. In an interview Oprah did of J.K. Rowling, she asked: “Do you feel safe?” Jo Rowling, billionaire, replied that she knew it was irrational, but she didn’t. Oprah shared that she feels the same. Here are two people who would have to spend several lifetimes squandering their fortunes to be in any kind of financial danger, but still feel some kernel of insecurity.
Independent of the good news in the incubator, my son, my youngest, graduated from high school yesterday. It is like being untethered from my purpose. It is scary but thrilling. I can live anywhere, be anything… it’s all up for reconsideration now. I’ve made two fine adults who are starting their own exciting paths.
This is not a lament. I welcome my gifts, including the gift of fear and of my capacity for the magical thinking of “everything is possible.” I have spent a long time wishing to change, but I am finally at the place where I just want to be. Yes, my heart may get broken again. Yes, I may make wrong choices sometimes. But here I am, still a fresh-faced beginner inside, always open to experience as if for the first time, on the precipice of a new start. It is terrifying and exhilarating and nourishing. And I wouldn’t have it any other way.