My fifties started with a bang. I jumped out of a plane, following behind the person I was interviewing for a book. As soon as I was clear of the plane I felt myself relax and one clear thought came to me, “You’ve done it now, you might as well relax.” If I was going to hit the ground, I might as well enjoy this last minute.
I landed successfully and stood up with another clear thought: Stop doing anything that isn’t working. There was a long list. My entire way of thinking up to that point was to try and make sure everyone else liked me, no matter what the consequences.
By the time I turned fifty, I was more of a chameleon than a human being and I had no idea what I liked to do.
As a writer, I was all over the map. Fortunately, it turned out I had some talent that over time became stronger. But as soon as I was headed down one path, someone would point out how I could be getting ahead faster if only I changed direction. Doubt would set in, and I’d let go of the plan that I had and set out again. Frustration and resentment built as I blamed others for why I wasn’t getting ahead in my life.
However, just a few months after that skydiving trip I was diagnosed with terminal cancer and given one year to live. One month later, an unrelated cancer was found that took a good part of the skin on the lower part of my face. Suddenly, all of the outward need to please others fell away and I was able to give myself permission to say what I was really thinking, and stick with it.
The cancer didn’t spread any further, something the doctors only have ideas about but were never able to explain. No matter, the entire episode, which included having to learn how to walk again, transformed my way of thinking and then my life.
I started out in life being told that I was part of American royalty. I am the great-great-great-great-niece of Thomas Jefferson, named for his sister, Martha Randolph Carr and with that came a certain responsibility.
I interpreted that as a responsibility to look a certain way but had no idea what would be the most acceptable or virtuous front. Over the years it became whoever I admired or at least saw as successful and I’d change to match their vision of me, as I saw it. I wasn’t running my own race as much as playing a part in a lot of other people’s lives whether they even knew it or not.
Getting a second chance at being alive changed that and as usual, it’s reflected in my writing. I finally started writing a thriller series, The Wallis Jones Series that focuses on a woman a lot like myself who’s doing a pretty good job of building a life until she finds out that she’s part of a legacy she can’t just leave behind.
In The Keeper, the second in the series, Wallis finds out just how deep those family ties go and realizes running away won’t work anymore. There are a lot of people who have an idea of the right thing to do but Wallis has to find out for herself her own definitions. It’s going to take faith in herself and those around her like her husband, Norman and her tween son, Ned to find peace again in the middle of a dangerous situation.
The legacy of finding out that our roots are legendary is not to try and appear as if everything is alright. It turns out that my fifties gave me the gift of learning how to live up to the past by creating my own future, even if it doesn’t look a thing like anyone expected, including me.