Posts made in February, 2005

Picture Taken at an Awkward Age

Posted by on Feb 4, 2005 in Angst, anger, anarchy | 0 comments

Becoming fifty-nine is something I never thought about when I was depressed about being twenty-nine. Now twenty-nine seems like a dream I had. I think it was a pleasant dream, but it comes to me in snapshots, all separate, and some a bit blurry. I puzzle over them in my brain. Who is that standing beside me on the boat? What was I thinking when I wore that dress? I long to call the people from the pictures, but some are dead, and some are lost, and some have changed too much to recognize. I doubt that many would recognize me now. If they did, I would hate that moment of strangeness on their face, then alarm, then, finding me beneath the gray and sagging visage, shock.

It seems a day for hiding from that shock, beyond depression, and looking to a future that never seemed so uncertain. I can’t say I didn’t think about what kind of old person I wanted to be when I was young. I often thought about my grandparents, my aunts and uncles, and later, my in and out laws. I knew what I didn’t want to be, but always when I saw myself old, it was another snapshot. Me, with only smile lines on my face, surrounded by people, and we were all laughing, a table before me with beautiful food, children’s voices in the next room sounding gleeful. It was Thanksgiving every day in my vision of old age, and I didn’t have to do the dishes. I never saw myself driving home from a mediocre job on a grim, dark, rainy, night, desperately trying to deny that my night vision was compromised.

In my youth I fled my home because I had difficult and controlling parents, so I was determined not to be that kind of parent. I can’t say I was never difficult or controlling with my children, but I admitted to them when I was wrong. The thing I am most proud of in my life are my children. I encouraged them to be mostly fierce and independent, so instead of fleeing my home in pain, they go with freedom and eagerness, to fulfill themselves in distant places. The end result is the same for a good parent or a bad parent—you work yourself out of a job.

I think I remember myself at twenty-nine thinking that life was somewhat black and white. When you do something well, you enjoy the rewards of your labor. When you make mistakes, you pay a price. The truth is neither; life often seems to happen randomly. Evil people have rewards they don’t deserve and good people just keep trying to push that rock uphill. I’m not even sure what the lesson is supposed to be. Should I go biblical and say the rain falls on the just and the unjust? Maybe life is more like a Russian novel where individual struggle and sacrifice ends up getting swallowed by the larger societal forces. Should I analyze life or just live it? Do I have a choice?

Looking back, I realize I am wiser now than I was at 29, but certainly not in the ways I imagined I would be. I try to think what actually made me wiser. Once again, instead of remembering that ninety percent of the time I was sleeping, cleaning, shopping etc., I see the snapshots. Maybe they’re more like video clips; a crisp autumn morning in New York, wearing my suede jacket, my waist length hair swinging as I walk. I bite into a crisp apple and think about the baby I just learned is growing inside me. I am so alive, so aware of the moment, so happy. Did I learn anything at that moment? I once thought we only learned from pain, but I have to say that I have learned much from the joys of my life. Perhaps my memory edits out the chaff and leaves me only the seed. Perhaps that video seems so vivid and joyful because of the pain that followed; the end of my marriage, the struggle to support myself and my baby, the indifference of the man I once worshiped.

A new man came into my life, some thirty odd years ago. He adopted that other man’s child and stood by my side as our other two were born. He says I too often remember life by the bad times instead of the good. Perhaps he’s right, but lately he’s been having more trouble remembering both the good and bad things. Old age I think, but it’s hard to tell. Life is kind in its own way. As we become more wrinkled and grey, our eyesight kindly fails, so we don’t notice. I have an aunt who lost her only grandson, the brightest spot of her life. It was too much for anyone to bear, so she forgot. In fact, she doesn’t know anyone now, a blessing really. I’m sure my youngest brilliant child could site studies, but I really don’t know what the connection is between the physical and mental realities of aging. Do the chemicals in our brains change over time? Do synapse fire differently as we age? I think I’m smarter now than I was at 29, but I can’t stand outside myself to tell, even though it seems like I do in those snapshots. I wish I could believe that we’ll understand it all someday, like I was taught when I was a child. I still keep my secret hopes for life beyond death with the idols under the bed, but I have grown too logical for blind faith.

I can’t seem to end this. I want to have some conclusion, but I’m fearful that there isn’t going to be one. Just as in life, we come into the middle and we leave while the show’s still going on. How can anyone ever figure out what the play is about?

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