I stepped from Plank to Plank
A slow and cautious way
The Stars about my Head I felt
About my feet the Sea.

I knew not but the next
Would be my final inch -
This gave me that precarious Gait
Some call Experience.

Emily Dickinson, c. 1864

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Reunion on the horizon

I'm not exactly sure when this picture of me with my five siblings was taken, but I know Norma Jean had just rescued Radar, the dog in her arms, a month or so before. That should help to date the picture. It might be the last time we were all together, or not. It was a while ago. It might be in 2002 when we got together at Thanksgiving after my son Chris had died, but then again, maybe not. This time next Sunday, I will be in Texas and we will all be in close proximity once again. On the 29th, we will have a reunion at a restaurant in the area. Of course there will be plenty of cameras around, mine included.

In December of 2008, we were all in Texas except for Norma Jean. She and Pete stayed in Florida, and the rest of us gathered to walk a half marathon together. My sister Markee instigated that trip, and it was a good one in many respects. It sparked my desire to find a way here in Bellingham to find some sort of exercise that would require concerted effort over several hours. I found the Senior Trailblazers, which now provide a high point in my life, with every Thursday reserved for our hikes. In the winter we stay close to Bellingham, but in the summer months we carpool up to the Mt. Baker wilderness. We start at 8:00 in the morning and are sometimes not home before 4:00 pm or even later. I'm always tired and renewed at the same time. I treasure the friends I've made, as well as the familiarity with the beautiful mountains so close by. And it all started because of the need to train for a half marathon.

The three weeks I spent in Florida have now settled into their place in my memory, although Norma Jean and I spend a fair amount of time with the video chat feature we have on our iMacs. Now that I've been there, when we visit on line, I know exactly where she is and can easily slip myself into the room with her. I usually wait until I know she's got a glass of wine (it's three hours later there) and I can enjoy being with her at the beginning of her evening. Technology has changed things so much. It's almost as if I were sitting in the room with her, and even though our hugs are virtual, our tears are not. We can laugh and cry together for as long as we want.

My heart aches for her losses. Yesterday she cleaned up the motorcycle on which the three of them spent all those many hours and days together, in preparation for selling it. They covered somewhere around 70,000 miles on that motorcycle in just a few short years, and now Norma Jean is the only one left behind. She is struggling to find her way and figure out what she wants, for the first time in more than four decades. Or even more, really, since I remember telling her what she wanted as her big sister. And I felt I knew the answer, better than she knew herself.

I was a bossy person back then, always thinking I knew the answers to everything. My world was colored in bright certainty, with no shades of subtlety. I didn't even know the meaning of nuance. I can't help but cringe a little as I look back at the confident and imperious person I was then. I've grown, no doubt about it, and a lot of that growth has been accompanied by the pain of self-knowledge. Slowly, over the years and decades, I have come to realize there is truly no way one person can know what is good and right for another.

Norma Jean gradually morphed from being a shy and reticent teenager into the assertive, competent and powerful person she is today. She did that without my influence, too. She raised two wonderful kids and dealt with a creative and (in some ways) difficult husband. I know Pete would agree with that statement. And now she stands on the threshold of a new life. Next week's reunion is the last obligation she has to make to her family, as we gather next week to honor Pete's influence in our lives and open our hearts to our sister. I love you, Norma Jean.

22 comments:

Teresa Evangeline said...

This is so moving. I weep with the kindness and the willingness to see yourself openly. "The pain of self-knowledge" is the perfect phrase to describe that part of the journey, of my journey. Standing on the threshold of a new life can be frightening and exhilarating. Your sister has a wonderful support system as she takes that leap. Thank you for telling us about your relationship as you both move forward.

Linda said...

My sympathies go out to your family.

TechnoBabe said...

This is a great picture, DJan. You are a climber as well as a jumper. How long will you be with the siblings in Texas?

Linda Reeder said...

I come from a large family too. We share a lot of mamories, as well as our own take on our commen life events. We are seldom all together, but when we are, talk usually takes us back to those memories. Families have history that only they share.

Your relationship with Norma Jean sounds very loving. You are so fortunate to have each other. She will gather strength from you, because you have strength in abundance.

Linda said...

What a healthy thing for a family to do. I'll be anxious to hear how the reunion goes.

By the way, I was not surprised to find you in the tree.

Norma Jean said...

This was taken in 1996, that's when we rescued Radar.

I appreciate your assessment of my strength. Pete had a great deal to do with my new found confidence. He pushed me to spread my wings even though sometimes it was hard for him to accept when I did. His "multiple minds" caused a great deal of angst for him. I will miss him greatly, and will always credit him for the person I have become. He gave me the strength I need right now.

I look forward to seeing you next week. Love you.

Jo said...

With all the pain and tragedy comes joy too. You are so lucky to be part of a loving family. That is a joy I will never know, the feeling of being loved by a family. How wonderful it must be!

Grandmother said...

It's sometimes the changes in a family that allow new connections to occur. I'm glad for you and your sister and thanks for sharing this with us.

gigihawaii said...

Thank you for your honesty and insight, DJan. Not all of us have that. It's been a long journey, hasn't it. God bless!

Blissed-Out Grandma said...

You are a very thoughtful and kind person now. I suppose it's natural to cringe at our former selves, but I try to forgive myself and not spend too much energy on regrets.

Friko said...

What a lovely, thoughtful and compassionate post you have written here.
I don't recognise the bossy boots you may - or may not - have been, but I certainly recognise a strong yet kind woman.

Stay that way and you will not go wrong.

Friko said...

btw, we have walking groups too, they are called, depending on fitness and stamina and effort expended, the ramblers, peramblers or amblers.

Arkansas Patti said...

The reunion sounds just wonderful. Families do get spread out and should take the time to refresh feelings.
It is wonderful that technology lets us keep our families within the touch of a button.
A very insightful, honest post.

Linda Myers said...

Have you considered walking the 3-Day? I did that in 2001.

Red said...

You've done a lot of heavy thinking on this topic. You look at it from various points of view. You also look at it from very different times.You're right that when we're younger we tend to look at things from a very self centered piont of view.
As ever , a great post.

Retired English Teacher said...

I hardly know how to respond to this post. I think that mostly, I think of my own five children, now only four remain. I hope that in years to come, they are as self-aware as you are DJan. These words of your's are just amazing: "My world was colored in bright certainty, with no shades of subtlety. I didn't even know the meaning of nuance." I think that you and your sister are able to have the connection you do because you have reached the point in your life where you are now.

I am learning much from you. Thank you.

Mel said...

Hi, I wrote you a long comment that vanished into the ether when I hit a wrong key, I wish there were an undo button for that move! Mostly I wanted to say that videochatting is a blessing for my sister and I, who have coffee together 3 or 4 times a week, she in Delaware and me in Illinois! We both have wireless, so we can walk around our little worlds and share pieces of them together. We're forever showing each other our yards, since we're both nature nuts. It has helped us both greatly, dealing with the grief of losing our father, and finding a new normal after her divorce. I hope your sister's pain lessens each day. I also wanted to say that it's a very interesting process, growing older and wiser and going through the pains of self awareness. Life is full of so many surprises.

gayle said...

It's wonderful that you and your sister are spending time chatting through your iMacs!! Stay close!

Nancy said...

You have such a way with words. Beautiful tribute to your sister, but an even more soulful look at yourself.

CrazyCris said...

Sounds like you guys will have an emotional and wonderful time together! I'm sure your sister will return home recharged with postive, loving energy she receives from her family.

Technology has allowed for wonderful changes in communication! When I first moved to Spain for Uni, and my family was still in the US, I was happy to get a call from home every 2 weeks or so. When I first went to Belgium I remember having to call home now and again for a brief "hey! remember your daughter in a foreign country? call me!" and then hang up on them (getting them to call, since I couldn't afford to). But when we all got on Skype... well there wasn't a day that there wasn't some kind of communication, even just a couple of lines of chatting while I had tea after lunch in the lab. I loved the feeling of being able to talk about little nothings right in the moment. The immediacy of it.

Now with my sisters and I in different time zones complicating direct communication, Facebook is a big help to keeping informed about each others' lives.

I can imagine you and your sister talking as if you were in the same room... face to face, sharing the day's adventures... so THANK YOU technology!!! :o)

Donna B said...

Love that picture...1996 or whenever...it is GREAT! Love the symbolism of the tree. Have a great time in Texas. Hug NJ from me. I look forward to more pics and hearing all about it. Hugs...

Star said...

You are very lucky to have so many sisters and brothers.