“The strangeness of Time. Not in its passing, which can seem infinite, like a tunnel whose end you can't see, whose beginning you've forgotten, but in the sudden realization that something finite has passed, and is irretrievable.” —Joyce Carol Oates
I’ve been clearing out the garage this week. It’s taking longer than it should, because I keep coming across old writings and art work, and all kinds of letters from family, and notes and cards from people I haven’t thought about for years, stuff I never had the gumption to throw out before now. Every now and then I find something especially moving, a letter for example, that originally meant little to me but now sends a pang of nostalgia and longing for that person. But then I’ll find a card from some idiot I’d dated, realize who the real idiot was —me— and, with gratitude for the better angels who rescued me from that one, throw the thing in recycling. What’s the cliché? “A trip down memory lane?” That’s exactly it.
One of the papers I came across was a printout I’d made off of some website (now “not found” and author unknown), a paper on stress. I had highlighted a number of paragraphs within it, including this one:
“According to Dr. William Fry, a five-year-old laughs more than 400 times a day and an adult laughs less than 14 times per day. A child also has 18-20 different facial expressions and adults only have four (LaRoche, 1998). Children are told to ‘get serious’ and ‘stop acting foolishly,’ so by the time that they are adults, they have gradually stopped laughing.”
That’s for starters.
Next, that first evening of dealing with garage treasures and trash I read a lovely essay in this month's The Sun magazine by Karen Vogel called, The First Year. It was about her life on a farm in Canada with her husband and new baby boy. I hope it’s okay if I quote from it:
“A few weeks after the cows returned to the fields, it became clear that Aleksy, who was waking up to kick his mattress and practice rolling and who no longer cuddled sweetly, needed to move to his own room. The times when he could sleep next to me like a velvety hot-water bottle were gone. I frowned as my husband took apart the crib and reassembled it in the adjacent room. Aside from looking around excitedly at the new contours of the walls and becoming absorbed in an entirely new ceiling, Aleksy seemed utterly unaffected by the change. I reminded myself of how nice it would be not to have to sneak around my own room at night, to have at least one thing back the way it had been before.
But instead of feeling like a comforting return to normal, the room without Alexsy’s crib seemed eerie and desolate. The furniture was still displaced where the crib had been, and the drapes had been taken down to use for Aleksy’s windows, so the moon poured in, bathing the walls and the carpet in its steely glow. Fred [dog], who had taken to sleeping in the den-like confines underneath the crib, wandered about before choosing a random patch of floor to lie down on. I felt as a child does for a balloon suddenly sucked away in the wind: a raw, sinking sadness. Aleksy would always change, would always move, would always be farther away.”
Then, the morning after reading the article, I woke from a complex dream, most of which I’ve lost to the fog that surrounds my dreams once I wake fully. I can still remember parts of it, though, enough to make it relevant here.
In the dream, I am in a strange city, alone, touring, though it feels more purposeful than that as I try to remember. Somewhere along the path of this dream-adventure, I see a child of about three years outside on a sidewalk, playing by herself in front of a shop; the child appears to be lost, or unattended. I wait to see if the parents return, but they don’t, and so I decide to take her with me inside one of the buildings, a sort of mall, in hopes of finding someone who knows the child and can help.
The interior of the building is strange, naturally, with tiny rooms and complex corridors, crowded with all sorts of bizarre goings on, business and arty types going from here to there, seemingly unaware of my presence. At a certain point, after moving from room to room, I look up. I am in a long, narrow hall that has an infinitely high ceiling, and I notice that a circus of amazing, colorful objects is playing above me, objects suspended on strings or wires, objects which change, grow and expand, then contract, twirl and and dance as though imbued with living cells. It could be an underwater scene; but it’s not. It's alive, but like nothing I've known or have ever seen.
As I watch this performance playing above me, a grieving sadness moves over me and tears well up and stream down my cheeks.
I'm thinking, Why? Why do these "creatures" feel like loss?
That’s when I realize I am no longer holding the hand of the child. She is gone. I have lost her. I search in panic everywhere, moving from room to room, calling out, encountering people and situations here and there, but never finding her again.
As I woke from my dream that morning, I remembered someone in the dream coming up to me with concern for my tears. She seemed to know right away what it was all about. She said, “It’s the movement—all the changes, changes that mean loss, growth and moving forward simultaneously; it’s a message of change, a forever living change that is at once tragic, natural and right.”
It was then that I realized the grief was about my own babies too, grown now, changed, having moved on into adulthood and lives of their own, families of their own. I know they can do without me very well, thank you very much. I know it’s right and proper, but damn, it’s tough. Gradually over the years, one step at a time, I let them go. No, I can’t go back, and I’m glad to be relieved of the pressures of raising babies and small children; and yet I miss the intense, interdependent connection, the “you belong to me.” They’ve declared their independence —thank goodness— but, regardless, here I remain, Mother, even though the irretrievable remains too, in remembrance.
That’s why any day they need me is a wonderful day.