|Elementary school picture|
Although it was more than half a century ago, I still remember some of these children, who must have been my playmates. The girl in the front on the extreme left was a tomboy and never wore dresses. She was shy but strong minded, I remember. The girl standing in the back with the coat and scarf on was one of my favorites, and I can almost remember her name. The little boy on the ground, third from the right, was always teasing everyone, and you can see it in his demeanor. I wonder what happened to all of them. Probably the teacher is no longer living, and I would guess that several of us are also gone by now. But some of us are still around, I'm sure. There is no way to find them. We were all military dependents attending elementary school at Travis Air Force Base in Fairfield, California.
In our journey through life, we change so much from year to year. I couldn't have been more than eight or nine in this picture, I'm guessing, but still the essence of me shines through. My memories are more intact for this school picture than makes any sense to me. It's interesting to note that the school buildings behind us were all very temporary, even though at the time I didn't notice. Another thing that I observe is that not one child is overweight, in comparison to a school picture taken of children today: you would more than likely see several who are fat, even some morbidly overweight. What has changed?
Well, we all know part of the answer to that question: our diet has changed drastically over half a century. I remember we carried lunches to school in paper sacks or lunch pails, a white-bread sandwich with (for me anyway) usually peanut butter and jelly or maybe bologna. Maybe an apple or banana and not a bit of vegetable anywhere to be seen. A homemade cookie and a container of milk rounded out my lunch. Not a lunch I would be willing to eat today, but it was normal for the time. The difference is that nothing in my lunchbox was processed, other than the white bread and the jelly. I'll bet the jelly was sweetened with actual sugar and not high-fructose corn syrup.
Today's kids are fed pizza and tater tots, and soft drinks. I learned recently that even milk has sugar added to it, to make kids more likely to drink it. I remember that there were a few days, not many, that I bought lunch from the cafeteria, but I know for sure it was nothing like what is served to kids these days. Processed foods have taken over every aspect of a child's life. Boxed cereal, usually filled with chemicals and very sweet, starts the day, and it goes downhill from there. No wonder there are so many kids who don't even know what a vegetable looks like.
I recently learned about food deserts. They are defined as urban neighborhoods and rural towns without ready access to fresh, healthy, and affordable food. Instead, there are only fast-food restaurants and convenience stores that offer few healthy, affordable food options. I feel fortunate to live in a place where I can buy locally grown veggies at the Farmers' Market. It's closed at this time of year, but if I am willing to pay a higher price I can buy greens during the winter months that are shipped from California. They may not be as tasty, but certainly better than having to rely on Taco Bell for my dinner. Fast food may be cheap in the short run, but in the long run it's really bad for your health.
How did I get off on that topic? I intended to write about how much we change over the course of a lifetime. I was once a little girl, then a young mother, and now an elder looking at a decade or two of living still ahead. Time is not a linear trajectory, but we think of it that way because we can remember who we once were and imagine who we will become. Pictures give us something like a time machine, looking back and projecting who we will be in the future. But in reality, all we really have is this very moment. Last night I dreamed of my son Chris again, and he was, as usual, a teenager. It was as real as me sitting here in my bed with the laptop, but when I woke and I returned to the reality of this actual moment, I realized that Chris has been gone from the world for a long time. But not from my own individual reality. He will always be part of me.
That little girl in the picture will always be part of me, too. When I first looked at that picture and studied the faces, the memory of that time long ago came back to me as if it happened yesterday. It is a mystery to me, how time and memory work inside my internal world. If I were able to imagine myself frozen in time, what/who would I be? Certainly not that prepubescent creature in the picture, and not the young mother, or the secretary and administrator who worked for so many years. Not the senior citizen I have become today, although there are aspects of them all who make up this person composing on her laptop. When I think of the expanse of my life, I'm all of them, but I am unable to pin down to any single moment when I stopped being one and morphed into the next.
This is, of course, true of anybody who thinks about life's trajectory from birth to death. But still I am fascinated by it all, wondering about the miracle that brings us forth, aware of ourselves, and grateful for the journey that is life. For it truly is a journey, isn't it? I'm glad to be here right now, today, writing this and thinking about you, my reader, who joins me on my path today. Be well and I'll see you next week. Most likely, anyway.