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, June 12, 2011

Understanding passion

This picture was taken in 2006 of Nanjing Road in Shanghai, where I had traveled for work. We held a conference there, and I would follow Mickey, my ex-boss, into the streets every evening after we had finished work for the day. It was how he decompressed and got ready for the next day: he would walk the streets for hours, looking into store windows and observing the people in whatever city we were in. I learned quite a bit, but for me it was an exercise in endurance; I was usually exhausted but knew I would sleep better if I joined him.

During the last two decades of my job, I traveled internationally and had the opportunity to be in so many parts of the world: China (six times in various cities), Hanoi, Saigon, Bangkok, Moscow, Paris, Budapest, Macao, and so many others that escape me at the moment. What's important is not the number of places, but how much my life was filled with adventure and what was packed into those years. I remember once when we organized three separate meetings in a single year, and I was so busy I could barely keep up. There was no room in my life for boredom.

During those same years, I also managed to spend every weekend and every vacation skydiving, making as many as 400 jumps annually! When I look back at my life, it is rather amazing that I accomplished so much without noticing. And those years were also spent in a relationship that went from being very rocky to rock solid, which it is today. We have accomplished what seemed to be an impossible task. Perhaps it helped that I was so busy, but for whatever reason we learned to be together and appreciate each other for who we really are.

My life has been a full one, but now I am living in Bellingham, Washington, and retirement has settled around me like a warm blanket. In the three years we have been here, my life has taken on a completely different tone from its earlier passionate involvement. My skydiving journey has dwindled from 400 to 40 jumps in a year, and even that much smaller number is beginning to fall away. Travel is from here to Vancouver or Seattle, unless I am forced to travel by plane because of a loved one's passing. I realize that my life is full in a completely different way that it was during my working years. Passion is fading to contentment. This must be a natural progression, but until now I haven't realized what is happening. Am I okay with it?

The passion I felt for skydiving was akin to falling in love. I remember those first years, when I would wake on the weekend and jump from bed to see if the sky was blue. It didn't matter whether it was July or December, I would head to the Drop Zone just in case I might be able to make a jump. The staff expected to see me, and I now see other skydivers who are just like I was then. But I'm not there any more. I come home from a day at the Drop Zone, as I did last Sunday after three jumps, and the old passion is missing. It was fun, but it wasn't nourishing like it once was.

After I traveled to Colorado in December to attend Emily's memorial, I remember feeling so glad to be home wrapped in the arms of my life partner and snuggled in my own bed, with travel being a burden rather than an adventure. It was Christmastime in Boulder, and I saw my old city all lighted up and decorated, but it was no longer my home. My place is here in the rainy and sometimes dreary Pacific Northwest.

At first, I thought it behooved me to find a new passion, to fall madly in love with something new. I looked for it in volunteer work, exercise, hiking into the mountains, but it was not to be found anywhere. When I was a young woman, I would fall in love with someone and it was magical -- for a time. But it didn't ever stay that way, so I would move onto another person and would fall in love again. I thought I just hadn't found the right one yet. One day I realized that I only knew how to be in a relationship in its beginning stages and hadn't learned how to have a mature love. I am reminded of the saying "familiarity breeds contempt." I thought that was real.

As I move towards my eighth decade, which hopefully will start in a few short years, I am beginning to realize that the passions of the body have begun to dim and the passions of my heart are flaming into life. Today I feel things so much more deeply than I did when I was young, and the loss of a fallen wild bird strikes deep within my heart. My passion has mellowed like a fine wine, into something that allows me to enjoy it slowly, and with deep gratitude for the opportunity to be here, alive and present.

23 comments:

Blue Ridge Mountains said...

Isn't that what being elderly is all about.

Grandmother said...

This was helpful for me to read since after retirement I've been awaiting a passion for something new which has not yet arrived. I've been traveling with my Honey and I love that (and din't get to do it younger) but I thought I'd find some work to make more of a contribution somehow. I like your attitude and acceptance of yourself that this post describes. I need a dose of that. I actually thought of something else entirely when I read the title "Understanding passion" and I opened it eagerly. Somethings don't change!

Mel said...

This is a lovely and insightful post, and I could relate to quite a bit of it, especially the gradual shedding of the adventure girl skin and the evolution toward a more settled person. I used to live for travel and adventure, and now, just the thought of an airport or hotel room makes me sweat. I've been wondering what next for a while now, and it was good for me to read this and realize I've spent many years being in love with being in love. The older I get, the more exciting the little things are becoming: a good book, great music, delicious food, interesting wine. I'm going to see these as a good sign, and hope to age like a fine wine along with you, grateful and content we're still here.

Mel said...

Oh, I forgot to mention, thanks for the comments on my post. I was smitten with that sculpture too, it is called Keyhole. One of our parks features sculptures by local artists. That one is for sale for $15,000. My husband said it could be made with wood, wire and cement for a fraction of the cost, but I don't think modern sculpture is my new calling!

gigihawaii said...

I don't think I have ever lost myself to passion. Even when I was in love with someone or felt passionate about something, there was always a part of me that analyzed and evaluated the experience. It was never 100%. Being this way helped me survive when a relationship ended badly.

Interesting post, DJan.

Friko said...

As you know, i think being passionate about something can be a good thing.
But like you, I now live a life which is calm and contented, although I can still feel very excited about something I do;
When we grow old-er, a slower pace becomes necessary, physically more than mentally, I hope.

You have put it so well in this post, our focus changes, different attitudes and preferences come to the fore, we grow and mature and settle into a different pattern.

It's just life.

Linda Myers said...

I love that you have voluntarily made the changes in your life, abiding by your intuition and a realistic assessment of what's important to you. I suspect that's a normal part of retirement even for the lifelong adventurers.

Retired English Teacher said...

We must be on the same wave length. I've been thinking about who I was and who I am now and trying to figure out the difference. I've lamented over the loss of passion. Perhaps, we are redefining passion. I'm going to have to think about all of that for a while.

Buz said...

Thank you for another beautifully written post, Jan.

Rita said...

I was another intensely focused passion lover. I like to think of my life now as more like that passion has kind of boiled up and overflowed all over every inch of my life. The passion is no longer narrow and pin pointed, but covers my days with a blanket of contentment and joy that is richer and deeper and more filled with gratitude than I ever could have imagined in my younger days.

I loved this post! With mature passion. ;)

Gigi said...

You've got me wondering.....what have I ever been passionate about? And all that I can come up with is my son. Other than that I'm pretty pragmatic. Which then makes me wonder - what have I missed out on? But then, my pragmatic self chimes in and tells me nothing. Because, for the most part, I'm pretty darn contented.

Bragger said...

I think I'm in the stage before yours. I have traded in some of my passions, but I have to have them. I think I cling to some of them because as I near retirement, the worst thing I can think of is being bored. As long as I keep my passions (whatever they happen to be at the moment!), I will never be bored. Thank you for such a thoughtful post.

Anonymous said...

You are still passionate, just about different things. Like being mellow. How nice that you have adjusted so nicely. Some fight to hold on to the blaze of youth, never to find it again. Evolving is an adventure also.
Arkansas Patti

The Retired One said...

Well said,Jan. I am probably a "late bloomer" compared to you..I have hopelessly fallen in love with photography in my retirement years but I do enjoy the slower pace and time to totally devote myself to my passion now that I have more time to do it.

TechnoBabe said...

Very nice writing, DJan. You had a strength and energy most people would love to have when you were working. You picked a sport to love that so many of us are in awe of but not willing to try.
You are a gutsy lady. You have lived a most interesting life and there are many more years for you to try even more things. I for one hope you are blogging forever so I can read about your many adventures.

I can relate to the change in mood of my life after retiring. I didn't know how much I would enjoy waking up each morning with no thought of hurrying to get to work. My days are filled with what I like to do with them. I am in charge of my life for the first time. Watching the animals on the table we put at the front room window is a thrill for me, watching them interact and take turns on the table. My goal is to practice with the camera to get clear pictures of the many different animals here. I took some pics but through the window the glare is a problem.

Again, nice post. And nice to read about your learning to appreciate your life partner as you grow together into the lasting relationship you describe so eloquently.

Nancy said...

Beautiful writing, DJan. Just beautiful.

Teresa Evangeline said...

Yes, beautiful writing. Passion changes and becomes something more solid, something that can be found in the every day of life. But, perhaps a new passion will arise. You've been sounding pretty into that new camera... :)

Robert the Skeptic said...

After reading your post, I was reminded of a quotation I saw somewhere recently. I was lucky to have found it again:

When you fall in love, it is a temporary madness. It erupts like an earthquake, and then it subsides. And when it subsides, you have to make a decision. You have to work out whether your roots are become so entwined together that it is inconceivable that you should ever part. Because this is what love is. Love is not breathlessness, it is not excitement, it is not the desire to mate every second of the day. It is not lying awake at night imagining that he is kissing every part of your body. No... don't blush. I am telling you some truths. For that is just being in love; which any of us can convince ourselves we are. Love itself is what is left over, when being in love has burned away...
(Iannis to Pelagia, Captain Corelli's Mandolin)

Red said...

There's a lot of stuff that rolls around in your posts. As usual I pick one part to respond to. I think when we're older we take a deeper look at things. The energy isn't there to go from one high to another. We have a life time of experience which gives us much more with which to consider each experience or new idea.
So the passion is still there . You can't take the passion out of the girl.... We are just on a more efficient pace.

Whitney Lee said...

The way you described how you felt about traveling, about wanting to be in your own home, your own bed-that's how I've always felt about traveling. It's like I enjoy the trip once it's over. The memories are more enjoyable than the whole getting there getting back nonsense.

It seems to me that you have a plethora of interests. Perhaps interests are enough. You've obviously got a passion for life and living, for people and connections. Maybe it's just that you're getting used to the fact that passion feels a bit different now than it once did. It's not the all consuming fire of a new love but rather the contented glow of a comfortable and dependable old love.

Donna B said...

This post makes me want to have another phone call or get on ichat with you... I can so relate to what you so beautifully wrote of. I too was very passionate...from falling in love, dancing, moving to different cities or states for the adventure of "something new" - to start over from scratch. I have always been a people person, and enjoyed meeting all different types of personalities.

I explored different jobs, for the challenge to experience something new ... I didn't travel much and I am still ambivalent about it, except maybe going to Italy...but I would not be crushed if it never happened. I used to travel vicariously while watching movies. I have always been an avid movie goer.

I have taken my retirement years to explore more of my creativity...writing and painting. I can feel myself moving into a different emotional level...a sense of slowing down...but am still in the process of figuring it all out...

I love the way you think and express yourself. For me, you are the best type of friend to treasure...I still treasure and cherish good conversation and reading words well weaved together!

Trish said...

What a beautiful post. You have such terrific insight. DJan, that reading what you write is absolutely joyful.

Far Side of Fifty said...

As I age, I have less energy to be passionate about things like I was when I was younger. I think it happens..and I agree with some of your other readers that contentment is enough..it sure feels good:)