Chronicles of an Elder: Rivers of Time





“And to make an end is to make a beginning.” Little Gidding. T.S. Eliot


I measure time by my years on earth. I measure time by the restrictions of lockdown, trying to peer beyond the curves of confinement... I measure time by wondering what events I’ll live to see my grandchildren celebrate. I measure time by the Jewish calendar when the new year begins in the fall.


I wonder about time, how much I have remaining. I fear time, its inexorable passage. I love time, its endless twists and possibilities, the way it loops back and mushes together past and present. I’m awestruck by time, how it’s real though intangible. I move through time, calculating it via my daily rhythms. (How odd, that notion of moving through time.) Perhaps it’s a thin tissue of undulating threads, shifting with the winds of my temperament.


I beseech the gods of time, requesting more of their precious cargo.


It’s not original with me, though I cannot find the source of the idea that the present determines the past. But that is how I experience it. I’ve always lived beside the shadow of my mother, both when she was alive and after her death. Hers was not the kind of shadow under which I cowered in fear; rather, I was cautious about coming into the light. My mother was a fearful, uncertain person. Towards me, the eldest of her two daughters, she exhibited mainly impatience and anger, threatening to send me away if I didn’t behave. I was then, as I am now, a reactive, emotional, sensitive type. Intensely curious, I wanted to understand everything. She couldn’t deal with me. I asked too much. All my young years, I longed to burrow through her anger and find respite. Growing up, I gave up, replacing my longing to connect to her with the desire to stay away. And with the fervent hope not to emulate her in any way. Let me not behave nor look nor feel as she did. Her shadow pursued me, pushing me to be different, pulling me back into itself.


Years passed, as they do. (There’s that time thing again, moving, flowing, receding, expanding.) I look in the mirror and see the lines of her face etched in mine. I hear myself respond to my life partner in the voice she used with my father, angry, demanding. I recoil from others, unable to feel worthy of love as she didn’t teach me how to receive it. I remember my cruel indifference to her in her later years, and shrink from the possibility I’ll get what I gave her--nothing.


That’s the dark side, the scrim of memories made up of absent feelings. But now, I re-make the memories of my mother, changing our relationship. This occurs despite her having died years ago. Time, that strange mechanism, is at work. It’s elastic, magical shape-shifting meddling with what was fixed, changing it to a present narrative.


In the story now, I understand how difficult it was for her: the middle child of an overbearing Russian matriarch who shouted orders from her bed in the back room of our house. Marriage to a man with a depression which burdened them both. A demanding older daughter who was difficult to soothe. Relatives blaming her for her husband’s malaise. And yet she persevered, spending the last nine years of her life as a teacher’s aide. That was the pay-off; finally a classroom of her own, a dream realized. And that eldest daughter who forged a life of connection, that daughter now comprehends her mother’s sadness and finally, weeps for her.


Time not only heals wounds; sometimes it erases them.


Time is not linear, though it’s what we’re led to believe. One doesn’t go from point A to point B in a straight line. Days are round, not long. And time is not hierarchical, forcing us to look up to where ‘He’ is (and it’s always a he) at the top: father, god, ruler. We’re trained to look up instead of around; we’re told to keep our eyes on the prize, not on the person next to us on the bus. We’re instructed to conquer time and not waste it. Meanwhile, time flows all around us, pushing us towards memories past, re-making old truths, beckoning us to the present moment, merging us with that thing called space, and finally, calling us to enter into its eternal river.

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