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, February 19, 2012

Adventurous spirit

Who is this cutie? Well, if you guessed that it's me, you're right. I spent yesterday afternoon looking for pictures that haven't been scanned into digital format, and got to work with the scanner so they can be used in blog posts. I looked and looked at this picture, wondering about the differences between people and what makes us each unique. Certainly the care we receive as infants and children has an impact on who we become, and this little imp obviously felt cherished and happy. As the firstborn I also had my parents' undivided attention for two and a half years, before Norma Jean came along to disrupt my happy role as Queen of the Universe. Fortunately she didn't stay uncommunicative for long and we eventually became inseparable.

From my earliest recollection, there was a distinct difference between us: I was outgoing and willing to take risks, while Norma Jean was shy and diffident, always willing to let me take the lead. As we grew older, it became obvious that we characterize the classic extroverted and introverted personalities. Of course I didn't learn the labels until much later, but as we grew up, I am pretty sure that we continued to make decisions based on our own natural inclinations.  Even though we have been through a full lifetime of experience, we continue to follow entirely different pathways to fulfillment.

It's fascinating to talk with Norma Jean about shared childhood experiences and realize how different our memories of the same event can be. Since Daddy was in the military and we moved around a great deal, I developed a "new girl" persona so that when we moved to a new place, I picked up mannerisms that I would use to cope; I never minded it, but she agonized over leaving her old friends and the necessity to be singled out. I never looked back or missed anybody. Consequently I also never learned to develop long-term relationships and ended up going from one partnership to another until I had the good fortune to meet my life partner at the age of fifty. Norma Jean and Pete were married for almost half a century before he died last year.

Smart Guy and I are coming up on our twentieth anniversary, but we will never see a half century, since we got a rather late start. In some ways I am amazed that we have managed to find such a rich and satisfying life together, since I had to develop some new skills, ones which at first I didn't believe I had the ability to develop. It took many years of effort to find our way, but it happened, and I am now able to write from my favorite Sunday morning spot: in the darkness before the dawn, a cup of hot tea within reach as I struggle with my thoughts. He's still asleep next to me. On some level he must hear the tapping of the keys, but the sound is not unfamiliar and doesn't disturb his rest.

We met as skydivers. If I had never started skydiving, I would never have known him. If the internet had not come into being, we would never have encountered each other. Our spirits were attracted to each other before we ever met in person. (I wrote about it here, if you want to know the details.) My life trajectory has been permanently altered by several events in the past, as all people experience throughout life. But I continually thank my lucky stars for those two: skydiving and my life partner. Without those two incredibly important occurrences, I cannot imagine who I would have become.

That's the way of life, I guess. Things happen to us that cause us to take a fork in the path that lead us to places we can't even imagine. I finished re-reading "Of Human Bondage" yesterday, and I now believe that the reading of that book in my twenties was one of the events that opened my eyes to new ways of perceiving life. It's certainly not life-changing to the Me of today the way it was then, but now that I have read it a half century later, I can understand why it affected me so deeply. I was accustomed to living my life in a rather superficial manner, not delving very deeply into the meaning of life, and Somerset Maugham was able to write this book in such a way that I began to examine my reactions to life events in a much deeper fashion. It deserves its place as one of the best novels of the twentieth century, and as I re-read certain passages, I felt stirrings of my old quest to understand the meaning of life.

Although I still spend a few days every spring and summer with my skydiving friends, it no longer occupies the central place it once did. Everything has its time and place, and as I begin my eighth decade (yes, that's when you turn seventy) on the planet, my adventurous spirit is now looking towards new challenges, new ways to feel excitement without throwing myself out of an airplane. I would never have thought that it would become a familiar feeling, but after more than 66 hours of accumulated freefall time, it has indeed become old hat. These days, I look forward to the intellectual adventures that my spirit still craves. The writing of these Sunday morning posts has become a part of that adventure. Who knows what will emerge?


Keicha said...

What a great post. I often think about the series of small choices and paths chosen in life that ultimately make up the direction our lives take. Sometimes I regret that I was 40 before I really seemed to get life! Luckily, your posts inspire and remind me that I still have several decades left to live life to the fullest with my newfound knowledge. Thanks for your always inspiring, thought-provoking Sunday morning words.

CiCi said...

I like your description of your being "queen of the universe" until Norma Jean was born and dethroned you. The photo of the little girl you were is so darn cute. Yes, scan all those photos and share in your blog. I moved around all the time throughout my whole life and I was always the never look back person like you learned to be. Lots of you what you write here could be written by me. Not learning to work through things because we did not stay in one place/relationship long enough to learn how turned out to be a horrible lesson for me to learn.

This post is written so well and clearly speaks of your growth as a human being as well as a life partner. I admire you ever more each post you write.

MerCyn said...

It is comforting to know we can grow and change throughout life. I wouldn't want to be stuck in one mode of living- how boring after a while!

Anonymous said...

When I delve into the so-called meaning of life, I become depressed. I find it sad and just plain awful to explore the labyrinths of my mind, with all of its terrible memories. I need my grandson to snap me out of it. What a happy little boy he is! I wish I were as carefree.

Kathryn said...

Your reflective posts are contagious. I always spend time thinking about my life after I read your posts. So much of my younger life was unconscious, almost. Now I put much more thought into things; how I want to live, spend my time, and who I want to spend it with. In some ways we continue to wake up as we age...and I'm only 51, with lots more living and awakening ahead of me, I hope. Thanks again for inspiring and bolstering my journey! Your spirit certainly does shine through in your photo - what a happy little girl!

Rubye Jack said...

What a little cutie you were!
I think I've told you this before, but anyway here I go again --
My dad was also in the military and my sister is 2 1/2 years younger than me. However, I was the introverted one and she the extrovert. Neither of us have developed long-term relationships except for some high school friends, but no love relationships that lasted for more than 10 years. Ah well...

Linda Reeder said...

Like others have said, your Sunday posts always cause me to reflect on my life. I was Norma jean, the introvert, and so painfully shy and insecure. But more, I often felt unloved, and unlovable. I was quite startled to find someone who loved me, never thinking I would have a marriage and a family. It would have been a shame, because I'm quite good at it! Tom and I are coming up on our 43rd anniversary.
The biggest move in my life, the one that changed it's trajectory, was coming to Seattle from Oregon to attend college.
But it really was true for me that life begins at 40, for it was then that I fully became my own person. I hope to keep on blooming for some time to come.

Dee Ready said...

Dear DJan,
As all those who've commented have said, your posts leave us thinking of our own lives. You have a wonderful facility to start with your specific life and learning and then to expand to the universal that touches all our lives.

Thank you for providing that link to the earlier posting about meeting your husband. You left a comment on my Saturday posting about "snap judgments." And in your linked post, you made one when he got off the plane. Oh, if you'd held onto that "old man" thought. But no, you hung in there and left the snap judgment behind and met your soulmate. What a blessing you must be to one another. Thank you for sharing these stories of how the two of you met and what your life is today as you approach 70.


Red said...

Interesting comparison of you and your sister. I was the oldest and my brother was less than a year younger. He took all the risks. I was his control. He has become very successful as a risk taker in his business.
Introspection can be very beneficial.
I just started reading "Of Human bondage."

Jackie said...

It's the eyes.
You have the prettiest eyes. I love the smile in them in the photo you posted on this blog. So captivating, those smiling eyes!
I clicked on the link and read about you and your husband. I haven't been reading you long enough to have read that, and I'm glad you included the link. Wonderful that you found each other...and I wish you lots and lots and lots more happy years together!
You write so well...and I'm glad that you included your thoughts about your re-reading of "Of Human Bondage." I'm going to read it again. Thank you, Jan...

Blissed-Out Grandma said...

I love your Sunday posts, and yes, they inspire me to think more about my own life, too. I was an only child for nearly four years, and I know I was loved but there was a sense of being good in order to be praised. In my early photos I'm smiling but not beaming as you are. Interesting realization. Thanks!

Sandi said...

I love that smiling face! Too cute. I know exactly how it feels to be Queen of the Universe and then get a baby sister! You and Norma Jean sound very much like my sister and I, with just a bit over 2 1/2 years between us also. We were inseparable as well, and she is still my closest friend, (as long as we aren't talking politics!)

This post really got me thinking about those forks in the road, how a seemingly innocuous turn can become life changing down the road a piece. I've certainly had my fork in the road decisions, and fortunately most have turned out for the best. Or, maybe the way they were meant to be? Who really knows for sure?

Thanks for attaching the link to when you met your "Smart Guy"! It was fun to read about the adventure!

#1Nana said...

Love the picture! I've got a box of photos from my mother that I need to go through and scan one of these days.

I don't think I ever read Of Human Bondage and now I'm thinking I should put it on my list of books to read.

I, too, was the first born but as the only girl I was never dethroned.

Arkansas Patti said...

Sometimes when reading a post, you get an "Ah ha" moment. That happened here today.
I grew up like you always moving and loved it. "New girls" have it good. I never understood why I found it so easy to break off a relationship but your post made me understand. I learned to look forward to the next one.
Unlike you, I haven't found "the one" to make me settle down but I am so happy for you that you have.
Thank you.

Rita said...

I love the pure joy and delight on your little face! I was the first, too, for almost three years. Difference being I appreciated somebody else around to keep my mother occupied--LOL! Life was always better the more invisible you were around her--and yet I was an extrovert, so you can imagine how difficult life was for me--ROFL!

I love how you and SmartGuy met (read the linked post). Wow! Twenty years! I never lasted longer than seven. It is funny how you think back and if this hadn't happened this way then that wouldn't have happened...etc...etc...it is all meant to be. Happy anniversary early. So very happy for you both!! :):)

CrazyCris said...

As an oldest child I can relate to that "Queen of the Universe" feeling... although my sister gave me a year more of "me time" than yours did.

I often wonder if being the oldest isn't something that helps push one towards being more extrovert, kind of a result of wanting to protect the younger sibling. My younger sister is also, like Norma Jean, a lot more of an introvert than I am... although both of us could be considered hermits compared to our youngest sister who we used to get to ask all the random questions for us when we were out in public... so maybe that there rocks my theory a bit. lol!

In any case I think the love and care and attention we receive when young will be some of the biggest influences on our life as we grow older.

PS: you look adorable in that photo! :o)

Friko said...

You've described my life, although I've not done the skydiving bit.

Perhaps sense only comes with age?

Robert the Skeptic said...

Wow that is an incredible accumulation of freefall time!! I am thinking of asking my cardiologist if I am OK to do an AFF this summer. I last jumped in my mid 40's

Ruby said...

I came over from Red's blog. Your post was such a fabulous read. It was very inspiring to read about your unquenchable thirst for knowledge. I'm going to read Human Bondage. The photo is adorable and so is the photo on the right :) "Things happen to us that cause us to take a fork in the path that lead us to places we can't even imagine." - very wise words. 66hrs of freefall time -amazing! Cheers, Ruby.

Linda Myers said...

I was a military brat also. I learned to make a friend or two quickly, and to say goodbye without too much pain. I don't know whether that's a good thing or not.

I was an introvert because I was a late bloomer; I covered my feelings of loneliness with achievement. I used that cover for decades.

"Of Human Bondage" will go on my reading list. Thanks.