Isn’t there a culture that conceptualizes the future as something that comes at us from behind to overtake us? Maybe they are the only ones to have it right. All this planning, all the mirages we see ahead of us. The clump of earth that should be frozen, but that rushes suddenly from behind to slip into the present, under your foot, in the form of soft and giving mud. And there you have it: the irretraceable moment that is a wet sock.
I worry that my children are still ashamed or embarrassed by me. I still talk too loudly – an American voice is placed in the mask – it carries (in more ways than one). It’s a matter of physics. What am I going to do? Adopt an accent?
It strikes me as funny that this of all things probably allows me to claim status as a “first-generation immigrant” (as opposed to expat): Worrying that your cultural traits will embarrass my children.
Or it would, if first-generation immigrant wasn’t code for something else.
Do you still miss living here? Miss being an immigrant? Are you happy with the unexpected repatriation in terms of your identity? Sometimes I forget which one of you is actually Norwegian: you or M.
When I look down at my hands now I see my grandmother’s hands when I held them during church services. It’s a strange kind of self-comfort, having her incorporated in my life in such an intimate and physical way.
Although a friend was visiting a few months ago; she saw a photo from the wedding and said, “Oh, your hands don’t look that old in reality.” To be honest, what I was uncomfortable with was how thin my hair looked in the photo – but now I have yet another thing to be self-conscious about.
Being busy, being occupied with the ordering of things gives me an illusion of control. Once that flurry of activity is over, the illusion is broken. I feel vulnerable.
I think that is why, content as a I am in so many ways, I have flashes of envy when you share your experiences of arranging your new life. I want to move house again. Which is absurd. Instead: yesterday I decided on a new bookshelf for the living room. So you see, I need a healthy adventure soon.
I think it takes courage to swim against the tide as we begin to do about now. When our own mortality comes slowly seeping into our consciousness as a fact of life, as our bones move with less ease and our skin relaxes, and we can admit to ourselves that we really aren’t the person we tried to be.
Yesterday I went to a friend’s theater production downtown. It was an evening of storytelling by seven women, from seven countries. So, I thought about you.
Some of these women were war refugees, some economic migrants, and some came for love.
There would be images of me (taken by God-knows-who) alone on the porch, wrapped in a hand-made blanket, a mug of boiled coffee in hand: the poet looking wistfully over the landscape. There would also be images of candlelight dinners with glinting wine glasses, my lover and all my laughing friends: all on Instagram.
… I know that isn’t the real world.
The question I had put to myself all those years is what do you want to be? Rather than what are you going to do?
In some ways, I am grateful for that. For what spontaneity has added to my life. The unexpected is always an adventure. I think it has made me braver than I might otherwise have been. I learned lessons, some very hard (some very hard on the people in my life).
But regrets are a waste of time. Even in hindsight, one can never really know what the results would have been from having made a different choice, at any juncture.
I can honestly say I have much less fear and anxiety when it comes to what other people think. (Notice, I did not say “no fear and anxiety”: we all fear the trolls, I think.)
Yes, I’m the only mature adult on the slope with her arms out “like an airplane landing” – but that is not “childish” or “child-like” – it is fearless, make no mistake.
“I’m too old,” is what people say when they haven’t found the courage to say, “I don’t want to.”
I know what I want.
I am not on my way out of the world. I think I see much more of it now than before. I am also far less concerned with how much of the world sees “me”. I am not any more invisible than I was at 20. In fact, I am probably increasingly visible as an individual, rather than a knock-off of a stereotype for someone’s consumption.
I find myself nearly every week telling at least one hurting teenager that it does get better. That these are definitely not “the best years of your life” for everyone. I hated high school. Even college was a struggle. But I love my life now. Every year, things got better.
Except that, well, maybe they didn’t.
If a mean, little god were to take me, as I am now, to any time period in my life and drop me there, I would experience shame in regard to my actions. It seems simple to me: if I were the product of those actions, if those actions created my essence, I would not be ashamed of them.
Unless the essence of my being is bound with shame in some way.
If you were to wake tomorrow in a hospital bed and no one claimed you. You would have to begin to forge an identity. To get to know yourself. And, as much as we want to live in the present, we only know how we fit into the larger story when looking at the past. Even if the past is nothing but a single day, or a matter of a split second and a recollection: “I don’t like peas.”
She recovers slowly. Then asks about the weather. A single, careful sentence that costs her.
E. tells her that his mother had remarked earlier that afternoon that the day reminded her of apple-picking. His grandmother smiles and nods. She stares at the blue sky through the window. “An autumn day,” she says.
She’s well over 15. Over 100 in dog years. She rarely complains. And on walks, she still stops in open spaces and challenges me to a game of tag. And she, still, never takes shit from other dogs.
Vulnerability is not weakness. I see that when I look at her.
Right now, she is the reality that makes real the nearness of death. Not Jimmy Carter. To claim that would be an insult to his family and to the people who do know and love him, to those for whom he is not a symbol, not a background hum.
What frightens me about Jimmy Carter’s illness, about his leaving this world before too long, comes from a selfish and cowardly corner in my spirit:
There is a man in Denmark who lives each day dying well. And, I hate myself for my first thought after listening to him: I need to move to a place where I can dig a pond, like he did; where I can fashion my life like his. I use the word fashion deliberately, for all it is worth. I am even considering his eccentric knit strawberry hat.
I have written things.
I have written things that I have lived.
I have written things that I have lived to regret.
My chronology is never explicit.