Aging brings about a subtle merging of the various compartments of life, (work, status, accumulation, partnerships, parenting, spirituality). Instead of being known for what you do, you are known for what you don’t do. In an odd kind of way, this transition might be easier for me because I never did much anyway. While my mind has always been active, my engagement in worldly activities has been minimal. I now see that I have been a guest at the table of life. Looking down at the long buffet of choices, I chose to sample very few of the dishes.
For me, this merging is starting to blur the past and the present into a wild, beautiful and mysterious kaleidoscope. When my mother turned 70, I gave her a uniquely carved, Brazilian wood kaleidoscope for her birthday. As usual, the significance of my gift was completely lost her on her. She looked at it with a baffled expression and then put it in her china cabinet. I thought to myself that I should have kept it for myself and given her another Hummel figurine to add to her collection.
As I age, I remember brief, discrete moments with more clarity than I do wide swatches of time. Within any five year period, I may have only one or two memories that have stayed with me. There are many jokes made about the senior brain, but the body is wise. The later years of life condense our experience into something managable and workable. To remember everything would be too time intensive and laborious. Instead, we remember a few moments with all the intensity of being there.
It has been said that at the time of death, one’s whole life passes in front of them. For the past few years, this has been happening to me in slow motion. Rather than racing by me like a train on a designated track, my life is appearing as chapters of a book that I can go back and read at my leisure. And, whatever chapter comes up for review often corresponds to real books that I find in old musty thrift shops or used bookstores. Given that I have been an avid reader my whole life there is a magnificent kind of synchronicity about this. Instead of remembering the pain of a messy divorce or the exhilaration of reaching the top of a career ladder, I remember the intellectual intensity and excitement of finding Tolstory, Ayn Rand, Simone DeBeauvoir and Germaine Greer.
When I intuitively pick up a thread of something from the past, a book can talk with me about it and expand upon it. The ensuing “mental conversation” often takes me deeper into areas that I started exploring at some point in my life, but left unfinished. As I began a new life journey a month ago, the first books that appeared in front of me were about self-worth and overcoming childhood trauma. Next, came Doris Lessing with her Martha Quest character and Jane Roberts with Seth Speaks, The Eternal Validity of the Soul. Most recently I found Alice Miller’s Banished Knowledge, Facing Childhood Injuires and Barbara Ehrenrich’s Blood Rites.
To anyone other than me, none of these books would have significance or contemporary relevance. But more and more, I realize that these books are putting me back on roads that I veered off from, or detoured away from, at some point in my life. Like Dorothy meeting different parts of herself along the Yellow Brick Road, I am merging with some of the fragmented, broken off parts of myself that were abandoned in my rush to get somewhere that never materialized.