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, December 11, 2011

The passage of time

Last night I picked up one of my old journals that I kept during the 1980s, wondering what I would talk about this Sunday morning. Those numbered journals began in February 1982 and petered out by the time 1990 rolled around. They all started with me deciding I needed to keep a food journal and see what I felt about the food I ate. Of course, it didn't stay just about food for long, because I found the experience of journaling, writing what would not be read by anybody but me, very valuable and cathartic. The one I picked up was #13, covering the period September 1985 to March 1986. I looked up my birthday to see who I was back then.

It was easy to remember who wrote all these words, but it's not the me of today. Twenty-six years later, the person sitting in Bellingham, composing on her laptop, bears very little resemblance to the 43-year-old young person who wrote this:
Mama and I finally had a fight. It cleared the air but was very traumatic to me. More than to her, I think. She finally let me take her blood sugar, and it was amazingly good. It confused me, because I was so sure it would be terrible. We started to argue, I don't know now just what the trigger was, but I let her know my visit was awful and I wouldn't be coming back at Christmas. 
I went into the bathroom to cry and when I came out she insisted that we "have a talk." The talk went on for at least an hour, maybe two, with me telling her all that I had been holding in since my arrival, all the resentments about her drinking, her friends, her lifestyle. Soon it became clear to me that nothing would make me happy but to have her (1) stop drinking completely, (2) eat only the best foods for her, (3) walk at least a mile a day, and (4) renounce her affection for her other children and see me as the best, most accomplished and devoted.
In 1985, I had not discovered skydiving. That wouldn't happen for another six years. My mother was still alive and had not yet gone through all the pain and suffering that awaited her. She died in 1993. My son Chris was still alive and healthy, and I had not yet met my life partner. I spent almost thirty years working for the same organization, and when I had my birthday in 1985, I had only been working there for six years. So many days, weeks, months, and years have flown by.

It is interesting to realize that time passes and changes are invisible from day to day. Each day I am a little older, a little different than the day before, but until I look back, until something like these journals gives me a glimpse into the past, I don't have any way to measure the imperceptible change. I remember illnesses and injuries, births and deaths, but the day-to-day life I live is also flowing by, the passage of time like a deep gentle river. The little soul perched on a leaf that makes its way along the river doesn't notice the changes on the river's bank. All it sees is the river and its vessel, the leaf.

When I wrote those words in 1985, I wanted my mother never to leave me. I knew that she would and was hoping that if she did what I wanted, she wouldn't die. She wasn't even as old as I am today. But you only have one mother, and I guess it's normal to try to keep that person from changing. We all know this is impossible, but it doesn't keep us from trying. It's the same reason that we dye our hair, get facelifts, exercise obsessively and diet: to stave off the inevitable passage of time.

Once in awhile, I will wonder about these things. I might catch an image of myself in a passing window and wonder when I got old. My hair is completely white now, the wrinkles on my face a permanent part of me, not a visitor that has any intention of leaving. I don't really mind, I feel fortunate to still have a vessel that works well. I know that will change, too, but for now I am happy to see that the old Leaf has most of its parts and is still on top of the water.


CiCi said...

Your talk with your mother all those years ago tells you who you were then. You have learned so much since then, yet, you were a loving daughter. You were doing the best you could at the time.
The day to day life we all experience brings joys and sorrows and it is how we deal with these that tell us who we are. You end this post with a description of the view of yourself you see in the mirror. Having never seen you in person, only in photos, I see the woman within, the beautiful spirit.

Anonymous said...

Yes, life is that way. We hardly notice the passage of time until we reminisce about years gone by. You are brave to keep those journals. I threw mine out last month, because I felt they were too ugly to be read by others.

Linda Myers said...

I have my journals in the hall closet. One of my projects-to-be is to get them organized. I don't know whether I want to read them yet.

I've met you, and the last word I'd use to describe you is old!

Rubye Jack said...

Still on top of the water -- who could ask for anything more?
Isn't it funny how all the moments and days meld together and the next thing we know was that was over 30 years ago. Wow. Time is so interesting as we age. However, my dear DJan you have a ways to go before you become old.

Susan said...

Well written post, my friend. You should write a book. I know it would be a best seller.
The young woman who wrote those journals - each entry she scribbled down made you who you are today - a very special lady.

I, too, keep journals. I started in 1985 and enjoy reading them. It serves two purposes - a book of memories and a means of reflecting - my feelings at the time (very therapeutic). I share a lot of my writing with my children. More ofen than not, they laugh and say things like, "No, you really didn't do that." Hahahaha
Journals are a great way to record the 'passage of time.' Thank you so much for sharing a piece of your heart and soul.
I love how you ended this post. It reminds me of the many times I have looked in to a mirror and the person looking back was my mother.
Great post and very thought provoking!

justme_alive said...

I loved the leaf in the water analogy.

Beth said...

Time does pass by so quickly. Loved ones pass on and we are left behind to grieve and to sort it all out. I have lost many loved ones. The most valuable lesson I have learned from this is that life is very short and that we should appreciate each day.

I have a journal from the 80s. I don't think I want to read it.

#1Nana said...

I don't spend much time going down Memory Lane...perhaps I'd be a better person if I reflected on my past more often. We have what we are now and it is a blessing to be happy in the here and now. I carry all the memories with me so nothing is ever really gone.

Kathryn said...

Your leaf is still green and flexible, with life coursing through it's veins - and no wonder - you're out there photosynthesizing so much of the time!

Red said...

I kept a very brief journal for about 10 years. I'm sorry my writing was so brief and that I stopped writing. When I read it , it brings back the whole day not just what I wrote.
I find that pictures remind me of how time has passed .
Today I cross country skied for an hour. I really pushed it and it was good.

Crazy Life of a Writing Mom said...

Your writing is so beautiful, powerful. One can't read this without being part of your story. ;) I love journaling too.

Dee Ready said...

Dear DJan,
This reflective posting, so honest and forthright, made me want to have known you back in the '80s. You cared so much for your mother and clearly she cared for you. Being able to use those journals to look back at your life and its blessings is a wonderful gift you've given yourself.

My mother died at 58 in 1968. My dad died at 69 in 1975. I'm now 17 years older than my mom was at her death and six years older than dad. Every so often when something new happens to me, I find myself wondering what Mom would think of that. What would Dad say?

I'll never know what my mom or my dad would have been like at 75. But I do know one thing, they would still have been cheering me on, saying to me, "Dolores, you can do anything you set your mind to." And for that, I will be, ever and always, grateful.


Gigi said...

Like the other Gigi(hawaii) - I don't have any of my journals. I journaled off and on throughout my entire life. But, as with the other Gigi(hawaii), there were thought and words in them that I'd NEVER want another's eyes to read.

Now I kinda wish I had them - to see who I REALLY was back then and not this distorted image that I have now.

And you? Old? Nah. You've got a long ways to go yet.

Rita said...

So glad you kept yours! Going back is such an eye opener. We don't realize how much we have changed little by little, day by day over the years. If we're lucky the changes involved wisdom and lessons learned. ;) And having the words written down brings me back more than a picture ever could, We forget so many little things as we float down that stream. What treasures your journals are! :):)

Mel said...

Those journals are priceless. I haven't kept mine for so long, maybe a decade, but it never fails to surprise me, the details and depth of emotion I'd forgotten. The mind can only hold so much, but there are millions of moments worth remembering and reflecting upon, so it's grand that we have our journals to help us recall them.
Thanks for another lovely Sunday post.

Sally Wessely said...

You are right. You are not the same person. In fact, I had a hard time believing you even wrote those words. You are so sure of yourself now. You are not old. You are living life to the fullest. You are authentic.

I hear so much pain in your journal. I am sorry our mothers can't be who we need them to be, but it is freeing to be the person we need to be for ourselves when we are older. You seem to accomplished that feat well. I know it took great courage, much loss, and much self awareness to become who you are today. It didn't take place in a day. It took, a great "passage of time."

Anonymous said...

You've captured the feeling of surprise at our own aging so well. Not until I started photoshopping my pics did I realize my skin has become crepey and my hair more than designer gray.
And mom...I thought we'd talked it all out, but I keep finding things I'd like to share with her and can't now. Beautiful post. Thanks

Nancy said...

This was an amazing post. I've really felt the passage of time this last month with being so sick. I've also felt, for the first time, that I may not always be as healthy as I've been. I'm also getting the same treatement you gave your mother from my daughters. I hate going to the doctor and I avoid it at all cost, but maybe I should listen to them, just as maybe your mother needed to listen to you. I do wish I had journals to go back and see who I was all those years ago. What a great way to keep track of the passage of time.

Whitney Lee said...

These are always such beautiful posts, ones that make me think about my own life and choices. I can see a definite progression of growth in my own journals, thank goodness. I started keeping them in high school; when I look back at those I am thankful for all the ways I've changed.
I hate to look forward to the day that my own parents will no longer be here. I know it will come eventually though I am hoping I'll have many more years first. I feel like I rely heavily on them for their advice and life experience, particularly now that I have children. I also see them as a repository of my youth-they knew me before I knew me. What happens to those pieces of my past when they are gone?
Well, loss is a part of life, right? So I shall cherish all the moments I have left with them, even though they drive me batty at times. I am grateful they are around for me to complain about! This was a beautiful post, and I do love the Leaf ananlogy.
As for your comment this morning, don't worry-we all tell Connor he's beautiful! It really is the best word for it:)