Looking back and thinking forward

Month: March, 2015

Opened to closure


This past week, being in Oxford in my own right as an academic and intellectual, I experienced what can only be described as a feeling of closure. Indeed, it was the first time in my life that I did not yearn for acknowledgment from my mother or older brother for my accomplishments. I felt completely comfortable in my own skin: included in a community of my peers, and up to the intellectual task set before me. I wandered the streets of the ancient collegiate city, probably down the very streets that my brother had walked decades ago when he had the good fortune and privilege to study there. And, for the first time in my life, I felt akin to him, and equal in academic stature. At times I even allowed myself to feel pride in the hard work I had done these past twenty years to place me where I am today. It was a very good and solid feeling. Not arrogant or prideful – but peaceful and happy. On Friday, last week as I sat with Life Partner at a quaint but classy little pub in Hampstead, London, it suddenly occurred to me that in order to experience closure, I had to first be opened up. 

It has taken years for me to face my deepest feelings about so much that went on for me as a young child. While I might have known about my situation cognitively, I would have to allow myself to feel what I felt as a child before I could truly understand what I had been through. I would have to digest the hurt, experience the pain, and confront my fears head and heart on, in order to let go and move on. It took me until my late fifties to allow myself to do this. As I write this I realize that I waited that long because I must have feared the pain. And yet, when I confronted it together with my therapist these past few years, it was not at all as excruciating as I had anticipated. Oh, there were times that I wept and raged, but when I held still and allowed myself to feel the sensations from decades prior, it became more and more manageable, always followed by a feeling of relief that was worth everything I had gone through. 

My older brother died about a year and a half ago, and what with one thing and another, I was unable to attend his funeral. And so, with my trip to Oxford, I initially planned a type of pilgrimage to his grave in another town to pay my respects. I had hoped that I might experience a feeling of closure with such a visit, because of the many complex feelings that I had within the context of my past relationship with him.

However, as I walked the streets of his alma mater, it was enough for me to feel a deep sense of peace in taking my leave of him. 

Abiding by the rules

I am a rule follower. Yes indeed. I follow the rules. When I break them, as inevitably I do, once I think critically and independently, I feel anxious. For example, I remember when I decided that I preferred coffee over tea. I thought I was quite the rebel! For, in our family tea is the drink we drink to be social, to cure all ills, in crisis, or if there is the slightest hint of emotional discomfort. Growing up in Rhodesia, we were served daily with trays of steaming pots of strong, sweet, delicious tea. Coffee felt like a rule breaker for me – as if I had become unfaithful in toeing the party line! But, oh my – how I love it!

When I move into a different job, visit a family other than mine, or travel to a new country, and especially when I joined academia-land, I observe and learn carefully and quickly what the rules are within each and every type of culture. How to speak, what to say, when to say it, what to do, when to do it, and so on. When I first came to America, for example, I learned very quickly not to talk with my mouth full, and to suck on a breath mint immediately if there was the slightest hint that I had been eating garlic.

In my youth, when I belonged to an organization, I followed their rules! In fact, each time I became a staunch and loyal member, and expected everyone to abide by all the rules, I was as harsh on myself as I was judgmental of others. No double standards there! As I look back on my life and recall the organizations I have been a member of, I am appalled about how loyal I was – sometimes unquestioning in my obedience. It is no wonder that nowadays I am fiercely dedicated to helping students think critically for themselves, for I know intimately and personally how important it is to be able to think independently when making choices that will affect me or others close to me. I have to admit that because of my strict adherence to blind obedience that I learned as a young child at my mother's knee, I only allowed myself to entertain feminist ideology at the late age of 40. 

Now that I am older it seems that there are even more rules to follow: not to drink coffee, yes to drink coffee, not to eat bread, yes to eat the right kinds of grains, not to drink wine, yes to drink red wine, to walk every day for 30 minutes or more, not to sit for too long, to do cross word puzzles or play Scrabble or lose my mind, not to be involved with social media, yes to belong to a group on Facebook, not to eat before gong to bed, yes to eat the right kinds of food before going to sleep, to sleep in the dark, not to watch television before sleeping, to read but not on Kindle, to … the list is endless. Study after study comes out and tells me what I should or should not be doing to retain my health, grow old gracefully, or whatever it is the study shows. 

All those should's and should-not's – it's exhausting. 

So sometimes the best thing is to just sit quite still, breathe in and out, and toss all those rules aside. That way all those demanding, dominant voices in my brain are silenced, and I can consider what it is I want and need at that very moment.

A year ago at Mining Nuggets: Leaving to be left

Retiring into nostalgia

Looking back and thinking forward. I have noticed that I reflect on the past a lot, especially in the one or two years leading up to, and for a few years after becoming sixty. Mainly the purpose of that has been to make sense of my life, and how I came to be me. It has caused much regret, but at the same time it led me down nostalgia lane.

How much better it was when …

It seems I have dwelt in the land of yearning for awhile. And yet, for the past week or so, I think I am starting to think about retiring nostalgia and regret, and leaving them behind in the past. Over the years as I have made more sense of my earliest childhood and how I made the choices growing into an adult and beyond, I look forward to a different time. Of course, at the core I will always be the unique me, who was born almost 66 years ago. And I am sure I will retain most of my neuroses even though I understand better than ever how I tick emotionally. However, it seems to me more and more lately that the past is exactly where it needs to be. Behind me.

This older version of me has a different life ahead. 

Being on sabbatical this semester has made me realize I am not anywhere ready to retire. I love the work I do, and would miss it terribly if I left it. Recently, talking with a financial advisor about retirement was an interesting experience. I noticed that all the financial advisors in the building were young people, including our own very competent and understanding fellow. There he sat, as young as could be – full of life and exuberance, bright as a button and sharp as a wit. And he gave us advice about our future – a future that was capped by a certain number of years – a future that very clearly has an end. I wondered if developmentally he understood how that feels – a future that will end … soonish. One thing for sure though, he helped me see that the choices I make for this next piece of the journey will be very different to those of the past.

On my walk yesterday afternoon I wondered if I am really ready to give up on looking back. In a couple of months I will head out to yet another reunion. Ten years later, another group is organizing another such reunion. A time for people to gather together, gray haired and life experienced, to look into each others' eyes and seek out past memories shared together – dipping into nostalgia as never before. I remember the first one. Even as it was joyous to reconnect with old friends from the distant past, it also raised feelings of longing for a simpler, and more passionate time. It brought back regrets of lost loves and thoughts of, "If only …" over and over again. I wonder, do I want to do that again? Really? After all, most of the people I see for an afternoon or evening, I will most likely never see again. 

Is nostalgia and looking back to the past a way of me holding onto my youth? I realized recently that when I think of losing weight, I have an illusion I will become younger if I do. I mean, I say that, at my age, I am doing it for my health. But in reality, am I hoping I will become young again? For me, leaving the past behind means letting go of holding onto my youth. Bidding farewell to an era gone by. I must admit it is a bit wistful. Saying goodbye is always a bit sad. But, at the same time, letting go of the past means moving forward and onto a different future. While it may be unknown, and challenges certainly lie ahead, as I look back over my life I realize, that that never stopped me before!