My personal history, as such, is less important to me the longer I live. The memories are abundant, and my recall is still fairly reliable and clear. I am glad of that. But I don’t dwell on it, or in it, as I once did, and as my parents and their parents most certainly did. It’s almost as if, on the day we first met, we were already going in the opposite direction — slowly at first, so slow that none of us knew, until, little by little, I noticed I was looking back over my shoulder, promising I would return, and often doing so, with many a joyful, tearful milestone and reunion, and yet all the while the distance was growing. The process has continued after their deaths.
Now, it’s important to understand that I am not speaking of a past I would like to forget, or that I am afraid of, or running from. What I think is happening, is that I am simply no longer the hero of the tale I once thought I was, or wanted or needed to be. Instead, more and more, I am an interested observer. I see my many old selves, smile, and shake my head. I was earnest, I was faithful, I was trustworthy, and I meant well. I was selfish, I was angry, I was frustrated, I was a brooding damn fool. Where did I learn these things? Why, after living nothing less than a charmed, magical childhood, and being blessed with wonderful, unselfish parents, did I insist on such a long, ignorant adolescence? The answer is obvious: it was necessary for my learning. And what did I learn? I learned that I already knew what I needed to know when I was born, and that I even expressed it well, until words got in the way — the same words I am using now, and which are now using me.
Today, the past serves as a kind of light and point of reference. It’s familiar, but it doesn’t belong to me. It’s rarely if ever a burden. It’s more like a drawer full of old letters, written by people long gone, and who have all been forgiven. There is no need to read them all. Any of them will do.
Did You Know?
A few words in a jar
will light the room at night
if you love them first
and say them
Poems, Slightly Used, May 3, 2009