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, August 26, 2012


I purchased a new piece of software this week, an app called "TurboCollage" for making different kinds of collages without much work. I put together this one in a few minutes, dragging pictures from the vintage pictures section in the iPhoto library on my laptop. It does a half-dozen different layouts, and each picture's position can be changed or enlarged. This one is called "Pile" (simulating the way it looks when you stick pictures onto the fridge with magnets). I can put in a background if I want, but I just felt like sticking together a few photos of my life for this post. Doing this quick and dirty like I did, I found that the original size of each picture is preserved, and I couldn't shrink it as small as I do for most pictures I put on here. I can fix that, but not today. It serves its purpose just fine, and that is to make a collage to illustrate some of the lives I've already lived and that are gone forever.

Yesterday I spent the day at the Drop Zone, making three skydives with my friends. When I came home and discussed the day with Smart Guy, we talked about how normal it is to have changes occur gradually, but sometimes those changes come all at once. This is happening right now with our move. Boxing up your possessions and considering whether you still need something that was once indispensable; finding items of value to pass on to others; discovering something you thought you lost—it's all part of moving. And that is after only five years of living here.

There are myriad ways to go through change in one's life, and I much prefer those that come with a conscious decision to alter a situation in order to make it better. Those are not the only ones I've experienced. As I gathered those pictures, I remembered the tumultuous years of my twenties, when I had two small children, lost my little Stephen overnight to spinal meningitis, the horror I lived through for the next several years, just trying to survive. That is long, long ago, and when I think of it, those memories are softened by the passage of time, but I could probably dredge up the awfulness of those years if I wanted. I don't.

My thirties were also years of change, but I finally found the place I wanted to live in: Boulder, Colorado, and I think of those years with pleasure, mostly. My son Chris grew from an adolescent into a man; I found a job I loved and kept for the next thirty years; I learned that I was a valued member of society. The contentment of those years became my reality and the pain of my twenties receded into the past.

During the decade of my forties, I gained more responsibility at work and simultaneously became an outdoors person. The friends I made at the time introduced me to backpacking and hiking in the beautiful Colorado Rockies. I became a Forest Service volunteer in my spare time, which continued for years, until I was 47 and discovered... skydiving. That was one of the sudden changes that I still cannot believe happened to me. It was a positive thing, and I was madly and completely in love with the experience. All my spare time was dedicated to it, and my friends became fellow skydivers. When someone is as enchanted with it as I was, your non-skydiving friends eventually fall away. They get tired of hearing about it.

The decade of my fifties began with meeting Smart Guy. While I was going through my books and bookcases, I found the binder that contains our original emails to one another. In those days (it was the early nineties), the Internet as we know it today was in its infancy. There were various newsgroups for like-minded people, and I had discovered one in the recreation category: rec.skydiving. It was a place where I met skydivers from around the world, and one of them was Smart Guy. We met in 1992 and married in 1994. I wrote about our freefall wedding here. By the time I turned sixty, I had been a skydiving instructor for six years and spent countless hours at the Drop Zone.

My job changed, too, and I began to travel all over the world with my former boss, traveling internationally to China (six times), Vietnam (twice), Bangkok (four), France, Switzerland, and many other foreign lands. I had to organize trips for dozens of scientists from all over the world and make it possible for them to get to the venue easily. When I think back to that period of time, I cannot believe how much I accomplished. It wore me out, literally. By the time I turned 65, I retired and moved to Washington state. Now that has been almost five years ago.

What I notice, thinking about all the changes I've been through, is how sometimes a change will occur without me noticing, and I'll simply realize that what had been an all-consuming passion (such as my job) is no longer at the center of my universe. Hiking and backpacking simply fell away when I began to skydive, although I looked forward to hiking with intense joy at the time. Today, I am again hiking with my Senior Trailblazers and have learned so much about the incredible Pacific Northwest. And I am still skydiving seasonally, starting in the springtime and ending when the rain starts up again.

Yesterday at the Drop Zone I chatted with a fellow skydiver who was packing his parachute alongside me, and he told me he's been teaching now for nine years, while holding down a regular job during the week. He does it for the pleasure of it (and getting his skydives paid for) and will be turning fifty soon. He wondered when he should stop teaching, and I told him I taught for twelve years, with more than a thousand students, beginning at about the age he is now. I said that the time will come when it's appropriate to let it go, but it's not today. It's a different kind of change when something is truncated, wrenched away from you because of life circumstances. When you can make the decision yourself, it's painless. Or almost painless. Realizing that life moves on whether we like it or not can be a lesson in itself.

I guess what is coming to me is the hope that whatever changes I still have ahead of me are ones I choose to make, or ones that have fallen away because they don't fit who I have become today. The hope is that when the day comes that I can no longer do something that gives me pleasure today, it will be because I've chosen to move on.


CrazyCris said...

Big changes still scare me somewhat, even though I've been through so many and come through them all just fine... it's inspiring how you seem to see them all as an opportunity for growth!

You mention friends who fell by the wayside when you really got into Skydiving. I'm afraid something similar is happening to me now with one of my best friends from college (and one of my only 4 "really good" friends I have relatively close by -damn all those moves!-). I don't notice myself changing so much as her pulling away. I'm doing (or will be once the heat breaks) more hiking than I ever have here in Spain, but I don't talk about with my "usual" (college) friends. When we get together I sometimes wonder what to talk about anymore, subjects of mutual interest seem to be disappearing. She used to be as keen on scuba diving as I was, but hasn't been in the water in 2 years! All she can talk about is her school (she's now a high school bio teacher) or a Animal Refuge she volunteers at. It's something admirable, but it's turned her into a one-track conversation subject and it's, well, boring! It's hard for me to realise that I don't look forward to spending any time with her any more...

Most of my changes in friends have been because I've moved, and distance eventually severed the connection. This is the first time I feel it happening in situ... it saddens me.

I hope I can gain even half your wisdom as I age DJan!

Good luck with the move! :o)

CiCi said...

The theme throughout this post is change, and you do a great job of taking us through many years of changes and giving us a glimpse into how each change affected you. I like how you admit that if you wanted to, you could dredge up the horrible feelings of huge loss right here and right now, but you prefer not to. I say I like it because I understand it. And I admire your resolve to move forward, never losing the memories, while living in the present. You have experienced much in your life. You have LIVED your life. You still are.

#1Nana said...

I related to this post, and ahha moments are still slashing through my head. I've also found that in my mature years I've reconnected with friends from the past. We drifted apart because our interests/needs changed, but once again we have much in common in our senior lives. Great post!

Trish said...

Beautifully wise! Love this collage, too. I'm off to find this app!

Sally Wessely said...

I loved this reflective post DJan. You are so right when you say change occurs without our even noticing it. I've been thinking that same thing as Jim and I ponder a move that will bring such change to our lives. Life does move on. That is the beauty of it. There is sorrow in the past, but it does not stop us from moving on if we accept all that life throws at us with grace as you have done.

Anonymous said...

Wonderful post, DJan! Love your collage, too. I think the reason for your optimism and positive approach to life is Exercise, which is something I need to do. Exercise produces endorphins, which lead to a happy outlook on life. I wish I had half your energy.

Gigi said...

Much has changed in my life in the past few years - as you know - and I find that I much prefer a change that I know is coming rather than the one that falls from the sky unexpectedly. Unfortunately, there is nothing we can do to prevent that, is there?

Good luck with your move - it's always stressful.

Teresa Evangeline said...

An excellent post, in every way. It flows beautifully.

Rita said...

Some abrupt changes turn out to be wonderful and some slow changes are dreadful, so you just never know. They say the only thing you can depend on in life is change. So true. All we can do is hope that they are positive, like you say. Or if they don't feel positive at first, that they will reveal another side to you later. :)

It's strange to look back and see the path your life took. I never would have imagined , well, hardly any of it back when I was a teenager. Been a hell of a ride, though. Wouldn't change a thing.

Have a wonderful week with your big change of residence!! *hugs* :):)

Linda Reeder said...

I'm not fond of change. And then I find myself saying "I need a change!". Yes, change is much better when we get to decide it!
Right now the weather is changing, and it's too chilly and breezy to sit outside this afternoon which is what I was hoping to do. Change of plans. So now, I'll have to see if I can get Tom to share the one couch we still have in the house, because I feel the need for a nap!

Far Side of Fifty said...

You sound a bit sad and reflective packing up all your belongings..and sorting through them. I hope your move goes well this week. Change is sometimes hard..especially as you get older..not that you are old or anything:)

Red said...

I would think that the major point in your life was in your thirties when you found yourself and found that you were a very okay person.
Interesting post.

Sharon Wagner said...

I'm glad you won't have to give up your community garden with your move. Next door if I understood. And I bet your hungry bird friends will find your new local. Hopefully the sparrows will get confused. The squirrels will probably come knocking on your door with an house warming gift. It will be a confusing map of where you might find an acorn they buried a few years ago. But hey, it's a squirrel. You can't expect much.

Dee said...

Dear DJan, in reading your posting I was so struck by your wisdom--hard won, I'm sure, but there, nevertheless and deeper, wider, higher than it would have been without the tragedies you've experienced along with the joys of becoming an outdoors person who delights in skydiving.

You talk of change and how you want to make change a choice, not the result of necessity, and I wonder what changes you experience in just a single sky dive?

Thank you for sharing your wisdom; you've made me consider the changes in my own life and the change that I so long for right now--to move back to Minnesota. I'm still not sure how that can happen but I want "to go with the flow" and accept the possibilities that present themselves to me. Peace.

Linda Myers said...

I do best with amticipated change. The surprises can be tough even if they are good.

O-town Ramblings said...

"There are myriad ways to go through change in one's life, and I much prefer those that come with a conscious decision to alter a situation in order to make it better." This really struck a chord with me. I'm like this too. Coming to terms with the changes in my life over the last two years that were absolutely not my choice has been so challenging.

I really liked this post. It was thought-provoking, as always. You put into words so many things I've been comtemplating lately.

On a completely unrelated note, my mom mentioned to me a while back that you were Scott Roberts skydive instructor years ago in Boulder. Amazing! What a small world it is.

Heidrun Khokhar, KleinsteMotte said...

This post is a collage of words and pictures. You are wise to leave the pain behind and enjoy what lies in front. I admire that wisdom in you. And your active lifestyle is likely to allow many good years ahead.