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, July 3, 2011

How the past lives on

Even though in this picture I am just a little girl, I remember this moment, I even remember the feeling of the sand and how scared I was because I couldn't move; I couldn't climb out by myself. That's Norma Jean behind me, and Daddy's bare knees on the right. There is something about emotion that can freeze a moment in time and make it live in the mind forever. People talk about what they were doing when they first heard about 9/11, or when President Kennedy was shot, or when some defining moment in their lives occurred. It's what our minds do.

When I woke last week and wrote my usual Sunday post, I could not have predicted the response; many of your comments made me cry with gratitude. And when Whitney even provided me with the quote reminding me of the reason I began this blog, I was, quite simply, humbled to realize the power of the blogosphere, of the connections we make with one another, and with ourselves. As a writer, most of the time when you write something, you get little to no feedback about how the words affect others, because until recently unless you became a published author, found someone to publish your work and later read the reviews, you couldn't know how people would be affected by your thoughts, your words. It's a new world, brand new.

Going through the past week has given me time to allow the lingering places in my heart that remain unhealed to percolate up to the surface. Dreams help, too. I overslept this morning, waking from a dream of struggle. As I made my way into the waking world, I realized I was hearing a squirrel on the front porch screeching at something out of sight. After shooing him off the porch, I noticed that it rained again last night, after a brilliant blue cloudless day yesterday.

Everyone has those defining moments. The one in the picture might have been one of my earliest. Fear made me remember being buried in the sand deep enough that I couldn't get out without help. Daddy was roaring with laughter at my fear, providing a sound track that also lives on in my brain. My cries and his laugh. He dug me out, but not before someone, probably Mama, took a picture and preserved it for me to relive that moment. Even though I now know that there was no real danger, it existed so perfectly for me in the moment that the cold sand felt like cement, entombing me there forever.

I carry a coin in my pocket that belonged to Chris. It's one of those commemorative ones that are given to put on a desk or display in some place in order to remember a moment in time. It's got the Big Red One on it, among other things, the symbol of his unit and it says "In Recognition of Superior Performance." I asked his commanding officer when I was in Germany for Chris' memorial service if he knew why it had been given, but he didn't know. Nobody seemed to know, but I carry that large coin to give me a reminder of Chris. Since it's been almost nine years ago since he died, I rarely take it out and study it, just reaching past it to find spendable coins. It's become something I would feel strange not having with me. I don't think about it and usually leave it behind if I reach in to pull out a handful of change. It's personal, and I don't like the interest it attracts; it's my own private talisman and I keep it to myself. Unless, that is, I choose to share it with loved ones as I am doing today.

Positive life-changing events also define before and after moments for me, too. Skydiving was a big deal, which I began at the tail end of 1990, so when I think of something in the past, I recall when it occurred by whether it was before that time, or after. Since almost every single moment of my first decade of skydiving was spent either jumping, thinking about jumping, or waiting until I could get to the Drop Zone, it makes sense. It's not that way now, though. Yesterday I went to Snohomish and made a couple of skydives, playing with my friends and having a really good time, but no single thing happened that will make that day stay in my mind forever. It will blend into memories of a summer of great beauty and happiness at being alive and vibrant in a wonderful part of the country. Unless, that is, some life-changing event occurs that will put a marker in my brain recalling it in vivid detail. I hope not.

I'm ready for some time to allow my life to settle into what passes for old age in my world. Oh, I know that old ladies don't usually jump out of airplanes and hike every week for ten miles with a backpack, but times are changing. And who knows how long I can continue to do it? For as long as I can, I will.


Anonymous said...

Nice, DJan. I liked what you said about that coin from Chris. It's too bad he didn't tell you what specific act it was for. Do you keep photos of him and Stephen in your wallet also?

For the longest time, I used to keep a bunch of photos of each year of my daughters' lives until they grew into adults and I put the photos somewhere else. When I went to people's homes, I would take them out and show them to my friends.

Maybe, I should keep a small photo of my family in my purse. Right now, I have nothing to remember them by.

Teresa Evangeline said...

It is so interesting how images can be imprinted and we can call them forth, feeling that moment as though it was still present. In so many ways, it still is. The picture of you as a child really signifies that feeling of helplessness. Having a person I trusted laughing at the time would cement it in (pun intended, I suppose). Knowing, years later, that it's not as significant as it felt then is important and good to know.

Having the zest for life you do will carry you through and it is so inspiring to me. Thank you.

wendyytb said...

I don't visit often enough, DJan...but I love your thoughts and blogs. Keep on ...please.

Whitney Lee said...

It's nice how often your posts here remind me of my own moments and memories, things I don't often think of or haven't remembered in years. I think that's one of the appealing things about this blog-by sharing your own memories you remind us to look at our own past through a different lens than we might typically use.

I like the talisman. I, too, have things of those I love. I don't necessarily carry them with me, but I do have them close. My uncle gave me an abacus of his when I was younger; he died nearly 20 years ago yet that abacus has occupied my bedroom since then. It's something that makes me smile and think of him fondly whenever my gaze rests on it.

I think everyone marks time in some way. For a lot of the people I know it's by relationship-"Oh, that was when I was dating so and so." For me it's pre/post sobriety.

You are definitely of a new age of older folks! You are setting the bar pretty damn high, too:)

Anonymous said...

Your fear is so evident in that picture. I once saw a live broadcast of a man who had dug a large hole in the sand in Florida and it caved in on him with just his head sticking out. It took hours to get him out. Each shovel of sand removed, more fell in on him and the weight of the wet sand made it hard for him to breath. I had no idea how dangerous that could be.
You keep your life so full. I admire your zest.
Arkansas Patti

Rita said...

I say do everything you want to while you can. Life is short. People need more gusto!! You really live your life and I admire that. And you have share your heart with us, too, and I admire that also. :):)

Red said...

This makes a lot of sense. We have to know the past to live the future.
Don't worry about being an old lady. I think you would be disappointed as it'll never happen. We stay active in our mind. Our body may age but our mind goes on. Unless you're like me. I had my second TIA two weeks ago. During these incidents I don't make new memories.

Gigi said...

I think it's wonderful that you continue to jump out of perfectly good airplanes and take long hikes and do all the things you do - you don't let your age define who you are or stop you from doing the things you want to do. It is one of the many things I admire about you.

California Girl said...

dearest DJan: working my way backwards to see what you've written. this touches my heart. I hope your talisman comes to your aid.

Grandmother Mary said...

And you never know before hand what will evoke a response but you keep telling your truth. Your memory of fear and your Dad's response is a good reminder to honor each other's feelings.

Trish said...

Honestly, DJan, there's a book in these posts, a memoir of what you have lived through, how you place these memories, what you have learned. I don't know of any other women your age who leap out of airplanes or hike what you hike for fun. You're a rare soul and somewhere, somehow, that should be shred with others. Let your blog be your template.

It's as if you're the redefining of a paradigm about aging.Shirley MacLaine, girl, has got nothing on you!

Trish said...

Uh, that's shared - not shred!

Anonymous said...

I'm always so impressed with your thoughtful posts. You force me to reflect on my own beliefs. I'm quite enjoying the concept of growing older and more at peace with myself. The blessing of retirement is the freedom. I've let go of the pressure to perform and can accept whatever gifts the day provides...but jumping out of planes is not one of them.
Happy 4th of July. I hope you had a great day.

Friko said...

Your thoughtful musings do you great credit. There's nothing superficial, about them. You are honest and open and I am glad to see that no commenter abuses your openness.

Settling for what passes for getting old? I doubt that very much. You have long been wise, so that's not it. You live a very active life, that's not it either. Your heart hasn't shrivelled up, your capacity for love is as great as ever. No old age visible here too. So, my dear, where you just thinking of numbers?

Numbers don't matter, they are arbitrary.

Sally Wessely said...

Images, memories, mementos all tell a story of what is important in our lives. They are what we carry with us. To us they have meaning. Others may never understand or care why these things are important to us, but that does not matter. For some reason, to us, they define who we are, what we want to remember, and what we hope to become.

Robert the Skeptic said...

Indeed you should continue to do what you love to do for as long as you can.

I just walked out to get the mail - as I looked at the pavement I thought about my heart surgery and that it is a modern miracle that I am here to study something as benign as the pavement in the street. I felt the warm sun and the breeze on my face. I'm f*#king alive and glad!

Far Side of Fifty said...

Hey DJan, I think it is just a phase you are going through. Pete died recently and then Fathers Day and then naturally your thoughts of Chris..sometimes I think that in grief we cycle back and forth bits and pieces at a time..otherwise it would be too much for us as fragile loving human beings.

You are who you are, and you are who are because of the things that have happened to you that have shaped your life.

I like the blogging world..acceptance and support abound..some people like you just the way you are..and you meet many people who you would never have the opportunity to meet otherwise...so for that I am grateful..because I like having a wild jumping out of airplanes hiking elder as a friend:)

Nancy said...

I had one of those moments with my Dad as a child. We were walking across the bridge in downtown Reno when he picked me up and swung me over the railing - as if to throw me over the bridge! I was fearful of walking over that bridge for years. I would always give my father a wide berth when we did. I have no idea why he did that - I guess it was an impulse that he thought might make me scream and laugh. Well it accomplished the first one.

Stella Jones said...

You certainly do look frightened in that picture and I can see why. Fear is so individual, isn't it. What frightens one person is not frightening to another. The trouble is, we carry that fear with us into later life and then remember it at times least expected.
Shall I buy you a shovel for Christmas?