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, June 29, 2014

Love is timeless

Me as a toddler
This picture tells me so many things about my early days. I know I was loved immoderately by my parents, and my sister Norma Jean had not yet made an appearance to move me from the center of the universe. I'll bet my mom made that outfit for me; back in the 1940s there were not very many cute little outfits like this one for toddlers. Plus she loved to sew. It almost looks like I'm wearing two different colors of socks, but it must be a trick of the sun, since I cannot imagine she would have allowed that. I can also see that I'm wearing little panties, so I must have been housebroken by then (I mean potty trained).

Daddy had a darkroom and enjoyed taking pictures and developing them himself. His family at this time consisted of the three of us, a nice little nuclear family during war time. I'm not even sure where we were living; since I was born at the end of 1942, World War II must be close to being over, and Daddy was certainly not gone, for this picture to have been taken. Norma Jean must be incubating, since she was born when I was two-and-a-half. I look to be about two.

I've been thinking about what remains from that time. Since I've read that the cells in our bodies are replaced every seven years or so (most of them, anyway, according to this article), what makes me still that little girl? I sure don't look anything like her now, and I have no recollection of what she was like back then. When I recall my childhood, most of what I remember is being loved, feeling safe and cherished. For that, I thank my parents. I wish I could have given such a childhood to my own son, but it was not to be.

Yesterday I finished reading a book about a couple of star-crossed lovers in the mid-1960s who were foiled in their attempts to get together by life circumstances. They truly loved one another and didn't know that the other was still alive. Forty years later they are reunited, in their late sixties by then, but still the same to each other. The book ended after their reunion, but my imagination had no difficulty filling in the rest. (The book is The Last Letter from Your Lover by JoJo Moyes.)

It makes me think about love, what it is and whether true love really does last forever. If that is true, then the love I received from my parents is part of my DNA, and the love I gave to my sons while they were alive is also still somewhere inside me. That is not to say that I don't still feel love for them, but it's different, laced with pain around the edges, so I don't allow myself to dwell there for long. It's funny; my parents are both gone, too, but when I think of them there is no pain, just gratitude for having had them as part of my life. That love is not gone, either.

But thinking back about other old loves, such as husbands and boyfriends who meant everything to me once upon a time, there are plenty of memories of good times and bad, but the love is rather one dimensional, not full and robust. I suspect it's because I've moved on and they are no longer part of my life today. My spouse of today, Smart Guy, has taken over that position in my heart and I guess there's no need for me to mourn the loss of any other. Must be the neurons in my brain only have room for one at a time. I wonder if that's a genetic trait that millennia spent in monogamous relationships (even if only serial monogamy) has facilitated.

But that's neither here nor there. What I'm trying to tease out of myself is what, exactly, remains when the object of love is no longer there? A phrase from my past just emerged from the fog: "the greatest of these is love." I find that it is a Bible phrase from 1 Corinthians: "So now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; but the greatest of these is love." (How did I ever find anything before Google?) According to this, these three things continue without fading or being lost.

I know that when I am feeling love, great or small, I feel a bit like I am glowing with it. Being suffused with love is a great place to be, and if I could figure out how to be there all the time, I would. But of course life is filled with ups and downs, peaks and valleys, and I guess, thinking a little more about it, I would probably stop noticing it if it were always there, like the invisible air I breathe every moment. No, it's better to have a few valleys where I'm not feeling the love so that I can be aware of it when it's surrounding me.

After this Sunday morning ponder, I sit here with my laptop, tea gone and partner still asleep, and I feel the love. I've got a good day planned, an outing with my friend Judy, and perhaps a bit of time outside in the garden, and the ability to stride out into my day with a full heart. I can only wish the same for you, my dear reader, and hope that your day is filled with love.

Sunday, June 22, 2014

Many lives and my faulty memory

Chris, me, Norma Jean, and two masked munchkins
This picture must have been taken in Michigan around Halloween, since Norma Jean's two kids, Allison and Peter, are wearing masks that she knit for them. I spent some time yesterday scanning pictures from the past into my digital library, and I stared at this one for a long time. It almost feels like I was a different person in that picture. Chris looks so fresh and happy, and Norma Jean and I are young and beautiful. I'm wearing a hat that I knit; Norma Jean might be wearing one, too.

The main thing is that I have no recollection of that time in my life. And where were we going? I would have thought maybe it was Halloween night, but Chris is not in costume, so I suspect Norma Jean and I were going somewhere and she brought the kids over to show me the masks she created. They are really adorable, aren't they? It's easy to tell which one is Allison, who was blond and cute. Peter is of course wearing a mohawk, or are those feathers? Chris didn't have anything nearly as nice as these, and his costume was probably purchased in the store.

What this picture reminds me is that over the years of my life, I've been many different versions of myself. I know there are some people who are raised and live their whole lives in one place, or two, and there is a direct trajectory between who they are today and who they were before. My turbulent past doesn't allow me to have any such a thing.

But the one thing that is constant in almost every one of those lives is my sister Norma Jean. Just this past Saturday we spent two hours visiting on a video chat. There was a period of about ten years in the middle of my life when I didn't have much to do with my birth family, including her, as I was a wandering hippie. When Chris was around twelve, he went to live with his father, and I began a period of travel and exploration. There are major landmarks that I can use to tell something about a particular time, but often my memories overlap and become distorted.

I'm curious about that young woman in the picture. What were her priorities at that time? I remember that I was married to my second husband (he probably took the picture) and we lived in Michigan. Chris' father came to get him every other weekend and for longer periods during the summer and holidays. I well remember how difficult that was for me at first. Somewhere I have a picture of Chris getting on the bus to attend the first day of kindergarten, and I remember crying because he was growing up so fast. He had to deal with getting on the bus alone, as well as his mother's tears. These days I see parents dropping their kids off at school and picking them up afterwards, but it was different then.

When Norma Jean and I recall some of our past, it amazes me that our memories of the same event can be totally, completely different. Of course, at the time that picture was taken, we were married and living our separate lives and only saw each other occasionally. But I don't really remember much from those days fifty years ago. Why would I? And much of what I do remember is not actually accurate. Memory is a funny animal: I've read that some theories believe that every time we recall a memory, it changes. I found an article from the Smithsonian while pondering this question, and this line resonated with me:
[The author] says it may be impossible for humans or any other animal to bring a memory to mind without altering it in some way. Nader thinks it’s likely that some types of memory, such as a flashbulb memory, are more susceptible to change than others.
He defines "flashbulb" memory as those that occur when something momentous happens, such as where you were when Kennedy died, or 9/11 or similar. When we bring up that memory, it can be totally different than what actually happened during the event. I have plenty of flashbulb memories from events that happened in my own life: where I was when Stephen died in the hospital; when I received word that Daddy had a heart attack and I needed to come home immediately; and where I was when I got the call that Chris was gone.

I suppose if I won the lottery, for example, that would be a flashbulb memory of a positive event. But most of my memories, those that I recall, are not of wonderful moments. I found a picture of my first wedding, which is very distant in my memory now, and I was surprised to see people in the picture I don't remember at all. All I remember of that day is my pretty blue silk dress and the ride from the church to my new home with my newly created husband. I was all of eighteen and he was twenty. No wonder I don't remember much! I was also pregnant and desperate to hide that fact from the world.

It would be interesting for me to sit down and write a timeline of my life, to see how much I can actually recollect as far as facts and figures go, and then see what I might actually remember from all those different lives. Now that I've been here in the Pacific Northwest for six years, it feels like those other situations were just vehicles on the path to bring me to this place. And it's a good place, a good life. The advent of the internet and blogging has given me the ability to document and record this period. When I go back and read some of my early posts, it's kind of like revisiting a favorite novel.

Well, it's about time for me to wrap this up so I can get on with the day. My partner still sleeps beside me, my tea is gone, and the warm sunshine of early summer lights up the outdoors, beckoning me to get out of bed and get started. Today I'll go to the movies with a couple of my apartment neighbors. We talked about doing so while gathering strawberries in the garden, and now it's become a reality. I am wishing all of you a day to remember, one that you will recall happily years from now.

Sunday, June 15, 2014

A day to remember and reflect

Long ago and far away
The only offspring of my parents who are missing from this picture are me and my son Chris. It was taken sometime in the mid- to early 1970s, I suspect, since Daddy died in 1979. My brother Buz (back row, far right) is surrounded by two peripheral extended family members: boys who hung out so much with the family that they were included, no doubt, because they were there. I like to think they were stand-ins for the two of us, Chris and me, who were probably involved in the middle of our own drama in California or Colorado.

Pete probably set up the picture with a self-timer and then slipped in next to Norma Jean, over there on the left. PJ and her first husband Ken stand next to Daddy and Mama. My two youngest sisters are to the right of Mama, one standing and one sitting. Those four urchins in the front row are PJ and Ken's two sons, then Norma Jean and Pete's two kids. Allison, right in front of Mama, is now a career officer in the Army.

Many of us were all together recently at PJ's Celebration of Life in February, those of us who are still alive, that is. Pete died three years ago, Daddy in 1979, and Mama in 1993. Today is Father's Day 2014, and now it's been 35 years since we lost our father. I had already lost a son, Stephen, who died in 1965 at the age of 13 months, but none of the others in this picture had yet lost a close family member.

Daddy was at the center of a bustling, active family at the time this picture was taken. Nobody had any idea what the future would bring, since we all live in the present moment and cannot take a time machine into the future to see what awaits us. But the passage of time takes everyone imperceptibly away from the present as we gradually morph into other versions of ourselves. At this time, my parents had every right to be proud of their accomplishments, their offspring, the life they had created. You can see that happy life reflected in those faces in the picture.

Daddy was only 62 when he died, and I was 36. My sister Fia was only 16. Events like these take a huge toll on us all, but at least I was an adult and had some life experience that helped me put it into perspective. Fia and Markee were just high school kids. We all suffered through, and gradually, as it always happens, we took up the threads of our lives again and went on. Mama was devastated, having lost her husband of 37 years, but she also managed to establish a good life for herself in the fourteen years she had left on the planet. Mama was only 69 when she died. It astounds me to realize she was only 55 when she became a widow. To me, at the time, she seemed much older than that.

Of course, I realize that as I grow older myself, what once seemed to be ancient is now, well, not so much. Someone who is 55 seems young as I look back at the almost two decades that have transpired since I was that age. When I see in the obituaries that someone died at 82 (for example), it feels a little premature. But it's not, is it? In the Bible (Psalm 90:10) the length of a life is supposedly 70 or 80. ("We live for 70 years, or 80 years if we're healthy, yet even in the prime years there are troubles and sorrow. They pass by quickly and we fly away.")

Although my father didn't get to live that long, he lived a very full life, filled with love and laughter, family and friends. After he retired from the Air Force, he continued to work at General Dynamics. My brother wrote, in a previous post, this comment:
Don't forget he also worked at General Dynamics (now Lockheed) for a number of years after retiring from the Air Force. GD was also across the lake, and he often piloted his boat (GiGi, pronounced "jee-jee") to work. It was cool watching him take off into a strong wind with lots of "white cap" waves on the lake, on his way to the office.
That's a memory my brother has of our father that I didn't know anything about. I had already left home and started making my own way in the world. And now, here today, many many years later, I'm taking this time to remember and reflect on a wonderful man, my father, who gave me part of my genetic makeup (along with Mama), and who counseled me over the years we had together. We are intertwined forever, and as I sit here in the dark writing this post on my laptop, I can only feel gratitude for that time. The sense of loss is gone, replaced with a deep appreciation and indebtedness for having experienced it at all.

Thanks, Daddy, for being my father. I hope that someday we will again have a chance to compare notes about what we learned this time around. And to my blogging family, Happy Father's Day!

Sunday, June 8, 2014

Structure of my days

Last Thursday's High Country trail
Here I am sitting in my bed on Sunday morning again, tea beside me, laptop propped across my knees, and my sleeping partner not yet stirring. This is what I do every day when I wake, but on Sunday the task of writing this post is my first order of business. It now has the force of habit, and the expectation of some thoughtful comments by my readers makes me look forward to the activity. Right now I have little to no idea what I will write about.

Last night I finished reading a book and turned out the light, snuggled into my nice bed and closed my eyes. (Smart Guy usually comes to bed an hour or two later.) It wasn't easy to fall into sleep, as the story in the well-written book kept intruding itself, but then I began to think about the title of this post, which usually helps me get into whatever the mood of the present moment might be. Sure enough, I realized that the need for structure in my life is on my mind.

I like to wake early and go to bed early. If I stay up until 10:00pm (like I did last night), it's rather unusual. My normal bedtime is two hours earlier than that. Sometimes I'll try to stay awake, but it's usually a lost cause, as I begin to doze in my chair. But the book was impossible to put down: Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn. It was recommended by one of my blogging friends, and it's much different from my usual fare. It's a mystery/thriller that has more twists and turns than any book I've read for awhile. It kept me awake, even though I'd had quite a full day at the Drop Zone.

My summer life and my winter life are completely different, but the structure of my days remains the same: wake early and read and comment on my favorite blogs online, then check out the news and comics I enjoy, read email and respond. By that time more than an hour has passed. I get out of bed, dress for the day, and head to the kitchen to make breakfast. By the time I leave the house to catch the bus (at 7:05am), I've been awake for two hours. At this time of year, the walk to the bus is really pleasant, birds singing away, a few people sleepily heading into their own days, and it feels good to walk at a brisk pace for a half mile to the bus stop. I see the same people there every day, and they see me. We sometimes chat for a bit.

When I get off the bus at the downtown station, my coffee shop is just a half block away. My fisherman friend Gene is usually already there, but while we enjoy our lattes, little Leo and his dad and a couple other friends usually arrive. I miss all of them when they are not around. Gene will leave in a week for his summer fishing hiatus in Alaska. He and his crew will be gone for six weeks or so, depending on how the fishing goes. I'll miss him while he's gone, but I will also reap the benefits of some great sockeye salmon when he returns.

Then I head to the Y at around 8:30am for my 9:00 class. I see the same people every day, and even if I only nod a greeting, we are all part of each other's daily lives. This time of year, everyone is lightly dressed and smiles are the most common expression I see. In the winter, we are huddled into our coats and hurrying from place to place, trying to stay warm and dry.

After my workout and shower, I head back to the bus to my home. I see different people on the way back; we all know and recognize each other. It's nice to be part of a community. Once I'm home, I usually spend some time catching up with Smart Guy, and I fix my lunch from the wonderful ingredients that he prepared earlier.

Then comes the part of my day that varies depending on what needs to be done: garden, laundry, shopping, reading, visiting the library, appointments, whatever. Sometimes we might go out together, but it's more usual for us to follow our own pursuits. In the evening, though, we are usually watching our favorite TV shows together or spending some time just hanging out.

On Thursdays I go hiking with the Senior Trailblazers, and on the weekend, my routine varies depending on the weather and time of year. Yesterday I drove down to Snohomish and enjoyed playing in the air with my friends. I didn't stay late, though, and headed home with plenty of daylight left. However, I buried my nose in the book and was pretty much stuck there until I finished it and was released.

And here I am, finishing up my post, thinking ahead to the day's activities. I need to harvest some strawberries and check on the progress of my garden, and I'm thinking of going for a nice walk around Lake Padden for my daily exercise. The weather has been so wonderful that it's difficult to think of being inside when I could be outdoors enjoying it. So far the temperature has been in the low 70s, perfect!

Although there is nobody telling me how to live my life, or that I must rise early and head out the door, it's through the structure of my day that I find enjoyment and stability. It's probably a holdover from the years of working. I was always the first one at the office and was more productive then, before others arrived was when I was most able to concentrate. I tell people who ask that the main part of my life that has changed in retirement is that instead of having a job to structure my days, I get to choose my own path and satisfy my own needs.

I love my life. And I love my routines; my enjoyment comes from having full days with a structure to bind it all together. But that's just me. How about you?

Sunday, June 1, 2014

June is busting out all over

Salad greens, beets and borage
Hey, it's already June! And here in the Pacific Northwest, especially up here close to the Canadian border, we have a spell of some very fine weather right now. No rain in the forecast for at least the next ten days (although that could change), which means I'll be watering my garden every evening during that time. Everything truly is busting out all over, including smiles and lots of exposed flesh around here.

Today I'll be traveling down to Skydive Snohomish to see if I can get a jump or two together with my old friends. It will be the first time we've gotten a chance this year. It seems that, although the weather has been fine during the week, the weekends have been wet and dreary. That, and the fact that my friend Linny was injured last year and finally feels ready to make another skydive, are the reasons I'm heading south. It was last August when she had a hard opening and suffered whiplash. It can happen, but hopefully all that is behind us and we can start fresh this year.

This year, my last year of skydiving. Yes, the more I roll that concept around in my mind, the more right it feels. But then a thought will pop up, that maybe I don't have to stop and could let it fall away more gradually. However, skydiving is one of those things that you really cannot do halfway and still be safe and stay current. Every winter I am anxious and nervous before the first few jumps of the season, and now it's been almost two months since my last skydive in southern California. I've got those same butterflies going on right now, and I will continue to feel that way until I've actually landed under my beautiful canopy. Then I can hardly wait to get packed up and go again.

However, the infirmities of my body make it harder and harder to get that canopy back into the bag and ready for another jump. I'll look for a packer to hire today, since I know I'll be much less tired at the end of the day if I do that. There are a couple of good ones at the Drop Zone if they are not already too busy. If I do end up having to pack for myself, I won't make many, that's for sure. But it will be wonderful to visit with my skydiving friends again, so I will be fine no matter what the day turns out to be.

My friend Judy is going to be spending the summer recovering from a fall. She was coming back this week from a visit to her family in the south, and while in the airport she fell on her right elbow and shattered it. Right now she's waiting for surgery and is in a great deal of pain. She loves her garden and won't be able to spend any time in it for the next few months, so I'm really wondering what I can do to cheer her up. She's got lots of friends and family to take care of her, but I sure would like to do something, which would make ME feel better. I've thought of maybe flowers or books, but nothing seems quite right. I'll think of something. She is having difficulty sleeping, since she cannot move her right arm (it's in a sling until the surgery). Maybe one of my blogging friends will think of something and make a comment that will solve my dilemma.

I threw my back out last Tuesday by making a thoughtless move in my exercise class. I should know better, but I keep forgetting that certain movements will cause my lower back, in the sciatic area, to pinch a nerve and then for a few days I can't use it properly. It always gets better, and there is only a little residual pain there today, but between my bum knee and my back, I can feel that stuffing my parachute into the bag will not be fun. It is interesting to me, though, that the adrenaline rush of skydiving and the shared experience with my friends can make me completely forget those little things while I'm involved in the activity. And then on the drive home I realize how tired and sore I really am. Hopefully that will be the situation today.

What else is on my mind? This coming Thursday we will once again be heading up into the High Country on our hikes. We might be turned back by snow earlier than we would like, but it should be beautiful with clear skies and views of my favorite mountains. Although I enjoy our lowland hikes during the winter and spring months, they just don't compare to the breathtaking vistas and forested trails that we get to experience in the summer. I remember when I first started going on these hikes five years ago. I was unable to imagine the level of enjoyment and camaraderie that would develop with my hiking friends. They are like family to me now, since we spend the entire day together, week after week; you get to know each other very well. And since I blog about our activities, they all tell me how much they enjoy the pictures and chronicle I keep of our adventures.

I can feel this post coming to an end, as my thoughts begin to move toward the day's events and what I still need to do to get ready to go. The sun is streaming in the windows, my tea is gone, and I can feel myself anxious to get out the door and down the road to Snohomish. Yes, the thrill is still there, nowhere near gone, when it comes to skydiving. I'll take every last little bit of it I can! Until next week, I bid you farewell, and I hope you find a wonderful activity (or two or three) that will remind you how wonderful it is to be alive!