Time: Looking Back and Being Present
Looking back provides such clarity and hope in what is to come.
Posted January 12, 2020
I wrote this first section in 2009, before retirement, before grandchildren, before becoming a motherless daughter:
With honesty and some embarrassment, I must admit that I have spent too much of my life waiting for the next big event or milestone. When I was a little girl, I just couldn’t wait to wear dress shoes without white socks; to get my ears pierced; to wear a bra (what was I thinking?); to have a boyfriend; to fall in love. When I was older, it was waiting to leave home via college; becoming legal at 21; graduating from college; getting engaged; getting married; having children; getting a full-time teaching job. Each of these milestones represents the passage of time that I will never get back. In truth, I wouldn’t want to return to any of these stages, but I question the part of my personality that looks forward to the event rather than the process of getting there.
I am old enough, now, to die of natural causes…to just go to sleep and not wake up. My obituary would probably read, “She left us too early,” but I also know I’m not that young. Not young like my parents’ younger son who died at two before he ever had a chance to grow up; not young like my cousin Ellen, who wasn’t even far into her third decade; not young like my dear friend Marion, who died at 49 and sadly missed so much of her own three children growing into adulthood.
I am old enough to realize that time is moving at warp speed and to understand why much older people say, “Don’t wish your life away.” Old enough to finally understand when a mother of grown children told me, “You will see that they will grow up in a minute and you will wish for this time back.” These words were spoken to me as a younger mother when I was deeply entrenched in the lives of my three sons: carpools; friendships; homework; childhood illnesses; braces; sleepless nights; and moods. It was a time of my life when I was exhausted and one that I thought would never end.
The older and wiser mother was right. While I wouldn’t want to live my life over again, I surely would love to live my boys’ lives over again… the joy of that good morning hug as they stand in their cribs ready to start their days despite the darkness outside; the spontaneous joy of their grabbing my hand while walking together; the joy of taking them to the park and experiencing the simple joy of swinging; the joy of hearing about their days at the nightly dinner table; the joy of just sitting with them while I read them a book, and ultimately, while they read me a book.
Of course, the well-known adage states that it is the journey and not the destination that should be my motivation. I know this and can verbalize it, but really, I have been too focused on the outcome for countless reasons. I have decided to start now, to allow myself to be forgiven my human limitations of wanting so much from time that I have allowed it to disappear from my grasp ever so subtly, and at times not so subtly.
For today, I am learning to appreciate the cloud formations; a quick phone call to my mother, just to say hi and check in on her, 400 miles away; a delicious Americano; an unexpected phone call from one of my boys; the “I love you” before my husband hangs up the phone; catching up with a dear friend; just even staring out the window at the greenery. All of this is part of my journey; when I have slowed down, I appreciate everything so much. While I want to enjoy the milestones, I am learning to accept them as they come…in time.
Written in 2020:
I wrote those words when I was over a decade younger and perhaps a little more self-assured and naive to believe that there was more time than there really was. I was a full-time English professor and now I have joyful teaching memories of so many dear students and at the same time, I am experiencing tremendous relief in not spending two to four hours a day grading essays. I am officially retired.
My retirement has given me one of the greatest gifts: time with my three grandchildren, Ezzie, Rose, and Cole, who eleven years ago, existed only in my dreams. Three miraculous, little souls who have added elements to my life that I had never expected—pure, unconditional love, absolute fun, and the chance to be 100% present when I couldn’t always be the same with their fathers. When we are together, I don’t have to worry about cleaning the house, (not really as important anymore); my work schedule (there is none); emptying the full dishwasher (it can wait); marketing (tomorrow); and keeping them busy so I can try to focus on myself a little (they are my focus).
Eleven years ago, I had a mother. Every afternoon at 4:00, I would call and sometimes our conversations were only about the weather and her meals, but mostly they about her grandsons and her love for them. “Michael called me, she would say.” “He is sure something!” I miss her voice and the spaces in between her words that I would fill in, understanding the often unstated love she felt for me.
When I wrote the first entry, Emma was only three years old, yet now she is gone. All the loving licks she gave me reside within my heart, while her new ‘sister’ Molly has added to this furry love. My memories of Emma are tied to the reality of a new puppy in the house and when, by mistake, I call Molly by her predecessor’s name, I smile with bittersweet longing for a time that has passed despite my joy for our sweet Molly, who we rescued from South Korea.
Eleven years ago, I could ‘pass’ for semi-young, now I am youngish-old. Compared to over a decade ago, I have so much more to live for and am much more at peace with myself, warts and all. Because I have completed my official work, I can create my own days, no longer dictated by the rhythm of a 16-week semester. I can read when I want; write when I want and actually do nothing (still a challenge for me), when I want.
I am a published author now, when eleven years ago, I was journaling daily without a clear focus as to what to write. I sat down at my computer, opened both my heart and my mind and let my story unfold. Little by little I shared my truth, opening myself up, examining the intricate pieces that made me Barbara and then, slowly, put myself back together. Writing my book was another goal since I was a little girl and sat down at my white lacquer, gold-trimmed desk for the first time. It was my favorite piece of furniture and while my desks have changed over the years—from my little-girl gilded desk, to my dorm room desk, to a used desk in my college apartment, to my grown-up den desk in our first apartment, to the one I sit at today. They were always my favorite pieces of furniture. When I write, I feel complete and when I don’t write, I am off-kilter, as if a few spokes of a wheel have broken off and I am lopsided.
I am much more peaceful within my own skin than over a decade ago, comfortable with not being the best in everything I do, which was quite a burden to carry. I’m good enough, which is just fine with me, a gift that these last eleven years have given me. Looking back provides such clarity and hope in what is to come. And, I don’t have the need to say anymore: “I can’t wait for…” My days will unfold as they are meant to and I will meet them with acceptance.