Today was interesting for the synchronicity of receiving some old photos of me, at 18, on the same day when I was contemplating aging. I had sent my children an unvarnished photo of me today, noting the now grey hair and how my face is changing. I’m still surprised when I see photos now. No makeup, just me straight on and, while aging is inevitable, I still feel that a sense of vitality eludes me in current photos. I ascribe this loss to the cumulative effects of what I’ve been through the past two years of treatment, perhaps the disease itself, and the current regimen of medicine. I miss that spark and sometimes I catch it but I see the difference in photos from the past five years, too.
But the synchronicity was that my first love, a boyfriend from years ago and still someone with whom I have sporadic contact, sent me a zip file containing photos he had from when I was 18. It was stunning to me to see these and better yet, I could recall where they were taken. Two are below, the first from when I was a senior in high school, nearing graduation at 18, and the other from one of the many road trips we took up the California coast before we parted ways for a long time. It made me happy to see these and remember. He turns 71 tomorrow, and I am more than halfway to 67.
It is startling to realize that these photos are almost half a century ago! How does the magnitude of the years and all that occurred between then and now begin to be told as the story of a life lived? We tend to calculate time in a linear fashion, we humans, although I don’t believe it is linear and, frankly, I’m not even sure that “time” exists or what it is, exactly. But, I can look at these pictures and remember so much of who I was and some of the dreams I had then. People even made fun of me for being an idealist yet the alternative, in my world, would have been despair.
Tonight the clouds are dense and blue-grey, covering the sky in the west. Snow is predicted for tomorrow, but it will likely be light and short-lived. Seasons pass as a form of time; I believe more in cycles. And maybe parallel universes where this young woman still exists. I’m not sure of any of this but I ponder it often. Geologic time fascinates me because it is so slow and enduring. We don’t notice the changes, if any are noticeable, in the rocks and mountains until we face a catastrophic change in the geography, a huge rock shearing away from the face of El Capitan as it did recently; now the face of this iconic landform is forever changed but it is still El Capitan.
Up in the Lamoille Canyon, formed by glaciation, I try to imagine how the ice moved slowly and carved the narrow, steep valley, the incredibly monumental cliffs of rock reaching far into the blue sky. I am awed by it all and that, ultimately, is what living is all about for me: a sense of awe and wonder that has never left me, regardless of many hardships along the way that shattered dreams and made others impossible to entertain. I don’t dream as much now for we live in some bad times, as far as I’m concerned, and dreaming is hard when so much needs to be done just to survive and help others survive, if we can. I am, indeed, aging and it seems so backwards that all the wisdom only comes later, before we finally die or have no more use for it. And, we cannot give it to our children or anyone else, really; they must earn it with their own lives lived. We can tell others, and I believe my children deduce a fair amount of wisdom in what they know about me, but oh, that young woman of 18 was so innocent, naive, shy, and full of ambition to be “somebody.” But, we are always “somebody” even if we don’t claim ourselves until after many cycles of life lived with losses and gains, unwanted experiences and some we could never imagine.
I confess that there is a turning point when people do think a lot about the trajectory of their lives,as they grow older, For some that may bring sorrow and regret. I remember meeting a wise old woman, an artist, many years ago in Big Sur. She lived in a house that was part of the property where Henry Miller once lived. She was tough and certain of herself in a way I admired but was also just a little intimidated by as I sat having tea with her in her magnificent house perched high on the cliffs of Big Sur, overlooking the Pacific Ocean far below. She was in her eighties, still creating jewelry, and her house was a marvel of the psyche turned inside out with masks on walls, thoughtful art, and just a glorious sense of mystery and wonder. She told me then, when I was barely 34 or 35, that I would have to choose from all the dreams I had and realize I could not, would not, have them all. She wanted me to understand that commitment to a few would bring far more excellence than pursuing as many as I could imagine. I wasn’t quite ready to believe her but now I know what she meant.
There were so many things I wanted to do, places I wanted to experience. It is part of youth to believe you can do anything and everything. But it is not a failure to admit to discretion, when the time comes, as it does on this side of aging when there is a reckoning with oneself about what is possible and probable, the fates willing, with an awareness of the thread of one’s life shortening. I am not sad and this pondering, this “wondering” that brought me to tonight’s post, is not a swan song. Who knows how many years, days, hours any of us has at any age? Yet, the young woman in these pictures believed with all her heart that she had all the time in the world and now I know otherwise. It’s not about time, though. I think it’s about will, intention, and staying open to experiences however they arrive and when they arrive, regardless of age. I am simply reckoning, though, with the girl I was and the woman I am.