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 26, 2017

Perspective

The Washington Monument
I took this picture in November 2005, when I was visiting my niece, who was living in Arlington at the time and working at the Pentagon. My sister Norma Jean and her husband Pete were also visiting, as we had gathered to celebrate Thanksgiving together. I had never before seen the sights around Washington, D.C., so we toured all the memorials. This is taken from the Lincoln Memorial. I was very impressed with the Korean and Vietnam Memorials especially.

During this past week, the thought of perspective has been on my mind. I've lived a long time, and the perspective I have today of what is going on in the world is different from someone who has not lived so long. One's perspective changes with distance from the event. Or the object. The classic picture of a train track disappearing as you view the horizon comes to mind. When you get to a certain age, your perspective naturally shifts from looking ahead at the long decades of life to those already traveled.

We moved here to Bellingham to enjoy our retirement years, almost a decade ago. I started writing this blog in 2009, and the years have flowed along without much outward change. It's been seventeen years since the turn of the century, and when I compare my life today with that of almost two decades ago, it's very different. But the change has been so gradual, in most respects anyway, that there are only a few events that stand out for me. My son Chris died in 2002, that was one, and leaving my career of thirty years and moving to a different part of the country in 2008, that was another.

Last week I was lying on my yoga mat in class, listening to the gentle words of the instructor, and I was following my breath, with palms lying across my lower ribs and feeling the gentle rise and fall of the breath. A long-buried memory came into my mind: I remembered just having given birth and laying flat on the bed. I had placed my palms on my belly in just such a way, and the sensation of having no baby in there was shocking. It felt like my hand was going right down to the bed underneath me. During the nine-month gestation period, I had gradually grown accustomed to that mound underneath my fingers, and I would explore the movement of the baby inside with wonder and joy.

And then the moment of birth changed everything. In that instant I felt empty and the infant had not yet become real to me. The world had changed, and I was no longer pregnant with a big belly underneath my fingers. That moment long ago in time, more than fifty years ago, was suddenly present as I lay on that yoga mat following my breath. If I had tried to conjure up that image, from that moment in the past, I could not have done so. But there it was, and it's been close to my consciousness ever since. Remembering being a young mother, remembering from the perspective of being a septuagenarian.

When I was young, I remember an older person telling me that she felt no different at seventy than she did at twenty. The only difference was the way others reacted to her, and the change she registered at her reflection in the mirror. When change is gradual, as it is in aging, you don't notice the incremental loss of color in your hair, or muscle tone, or the accumulation of wrinkles. I sure don't remember when my hair changed from brown to white, but now I can hardly imagine it being otherwise. As I raise my leg to stretch it in yoga class, I notice how the skin has become loose and crepey, just like any other old person's skin. When did that happen?

Being an active person, I didn't realize how much I've changed over the years, because I am still active, but it's different now. Where did I ever find the energy to travel as much as I did, hold down a full-time job and still manage to spend every weekend and every vacation skydiving, going to bed every night looking forward to the next day's full schedule. That's what is different today: now I find myself getting much more tired after much less activity. I am still able to hike, take long walks, do yoga and exercise classes, but things keep breaking down: the knees or back, now that pesky hip pain to deal with. This is the same hip I damaged so badly in June 2000 when I broke myself up, and now I think the damage is catching up with me.

The only thing I know how to do, though, is keep going until I simply cannot do it any more. The perspective I have from this vantage point midway through my eighth decade of life is that it's been a good long run, and I'll keep on trying everything to stave off the inevitable. Bertrand Russell once said, "In all affairs it's a healthy thing now and then to hang a question mark on the things you have long taken for granted.” I've long taken good health for granted, and I'm thinking about how fortunate I've been in my life.

There have been some really good things I've experienced in the last decade, and one of them has been the luxury of blogging. What a fine world it is, with others like me, young and old together finding a community that helps me find my way forward. And you, dear reader, know just what I'm talking about. It's the perspective of others that I learn from, and I hope that my own perspective helps others as well.

And now it's time for me to start my day. I've fulfilled my first task, and now as I hop out of bed, not too vigorously so I won't wake my partner, I'll dress, do my exercises and other normal morning tasks, and then head to the coffee shop, my latte and my friends awaiting my arrival. Until next week, I hope you will be well and surrounded by love.

17 comments:

Hilary said...

We'll said......I'm at the same place you are, and it's with a little amazement and a lot of gratitude.

Linda Reeder said...

It is interesting, and unpredictable, which memories pop into our heads at any given time. Having lived 70+ years, there are plenty of memories to trigger.
Like you, I'll just keep going until I can't.

Trish and Rob MacGregor said...

As always, your Sunday posts are thoughtful and beautiful!

Linda Myers said...

How wonderful to have that memory arise suddenly for you! I love the unexpected.

Heidrun Khokhar, KleinsteMotte said...

Perspective is really a super way to view events. Time is what puts a twist on what we recall. I have gone back to a journal I wrote as a late teen and was surprised at how my present memory of those events were misalligned with what happened according to my journal. Yet in my headbefore reading the facts I assumed my recall to be spot on. Interesting discovery that the years of many other events have somehow blended facts to create new views that seemed quite accurate.
Another thing I now find is that with age and experience we find that the youth must muddle their way forward in life much like we had to. They cannot really benefit from our experience. They have to live each decade and build up skills of life to become more wise. Experience adds to perspective. Perhaps blogging adds to our need to feel our common challenge of facing the aging process? Each day adds more to our outlook and these days our age group has the world at our finger tips. We can reach out to see one another on screens and talk as if were were in the next room. That is new for our agedgeneration. I wonder how it will affect the future generations when they look back?

Arkansas Patti said...

Interesting that you could relive that moment and that it came to you when it did.
You are right about the changes creeping up on us. Thank goodness. I'd hate to go to sleep looking 30 and wake up looking 77. Slow is fine by me.

Marie Smith said...

A thought provoking post, Jan.

One of the bloogers I've followed and enjoyed, died recently. Schmidleyscribblings was a smart, well read woman, who wrote about many things and aging was part of her story. Iill health had not diminished her keen mind or sharp wit. She had the perspective of age and wisdom added to the young person who still resided inside. Her blogging friends grieve her passing in our own way too. Such is the community we create through our blogs today.

Take care of that hip. You've got miles to go yet.

Elephant's Child said...

Perspective has been looming large in my consciousness too. I remember times/events which I thought were all encompassing at the time. And now recognise them as minor hiccups.
I hope your week is filled with love and laughter and free of pain.

Tabor said...

I have always been amazed at how healthy I have been for this long. Life these days is beginnings and endings and each day I find I can do less, although I am not as fit as you. Interesting that Yoga is a memory device! That is a valuable insight.

Rian said...

DJan, you post made me think of that song, "Don't Blink". Life goes by so fast. And it's odd what memories stay with you. My strongest memory pertaining to the birth of my first child was the overwhelming responsibility that overtook me a few days after his birth. I cried because I suddenly realized that I was responsible for this little life and would be till the day I died. I loved him dearly, but the responsibility he brought with him scared me. I still remember that feeling.
As for the aging part, we can only accept it and be thankful that we came this far. Sharing through blogging is one of the benefits technology has given us...

Red said...

Excellent description of how we arrive at maturity. Maturity is a part of life that slowly adds layers to the person. I never thought of such a situation as feeling the empty belly after giving birth. But why would I? As always some nice things to think about.

Far Side of Fifty said...

I know there is an old woman in my mirror every morning...:)

Mary said...

Just recently started following your blog and I really enjoyed this post. Lately, as I age I find I have this real sense of time moving on through me and the past receding further and further back. Not only does the past change, but we change right along with it and all because of the circumstances and events in our lives. I wish I could really live in one of my memories just for a an hour or so, just to savor and appreciate it in light of who and where I am today. Seems sometimes that only happens after the fact. I see an old woman in the mirror too, but it doesn't bother me in the least.

The Broad said...

I found your experience of remembering how you felt after giving birth very moving. A memory that is stirred so unexpectedly and powerfully sounds as if you were almost back again at that moment. How amazing. I find the sight of myself in the mirror or in photographs is sometimes alarming and sometimes just bizarre. That thought of 'how did I get here like this?' seems to be universal. I have noticed that different mirrors give me a different perspective of myself and sometimes it's best to avoid certain of those where the light is not as flattering as elsewhere! Lovely thoughtful post -- as always...

Glenda Council Beall said...

I am just going to keep on until I can't, DJan. I just took a part time job of heading up a writing organization of about 90 members. I will continue to teach writing when and where I am wanted. My 92 year old friend and I have a book in process of being published. I fight pain and fatigue every day, but can't stop "keeping on" because when I stop, I don't think I will live very much longer. Like my father, I need something to look forward to every day. It is not getting older that is hard, but it is hard to stay viable in this world where youth is valued more than wisdom. Thanks for another thoughtful post. Have a great week.

gigihawaii said...

You exercise much more than I do, and I applaud you for doing that. You are an inspiration for all of us, DJan. Keep going!

Barb said...

I was nodding my head "yes" to your words. I, too, will keep going and doing as long as possible. My life is full but is certainly different than it was even 10 years ago. That said, I don't mind being almost 73 - I have both good and bad memories from the past, and I hope to make some more in the coming years. Life is never stagnant. Maybe the secret to aging well is the ability to accept change.