I just stepped away from the table, where I’ve been looking at old photographs. I was uploading trip pictures to Dropbox and somehow a bunch of old photos came up. I got sucked in. After an hour, I stumbled away from the table, one foot asleep, back sore from stooping over the laptop, eyes bleary.
And teary. I must admit my eyes were teary. It’s sort of fun to go back in the past to see what it was like. But it’s also sad to see all you’ve lost. My face and body were younger back then, but that’s not even the thing that is bothersome. It’s the change in the line-up of people that really gets me.
Like the flash changes in my children. There’s Brenny in one photo, taken yesterday, wrestling with the dog. But, oh yeah, that wasn’t yesterday. It was six years ago. And we no longer have the dog. There’s Laura, with her yellow hair and chubby face. Again, I remember her 6-year-old face and Snoopy-like laugh as though that form of her could walk through the door right now. But now she’s eleven, singing Adele songs, as tall as me, as strong or stronger. The same is true with Andy, who is now fifteen—FIFTEEN!!—and baby Addy, who is now six. (Yes, I still call her “baby Addy.” Old habits die hard.)
It’s natural that children should grow. It’s just not natural that we modern humans should have documented every facial expression and moment so that we have this morbid opportunity to time travel and make ourselves miserable.
Beyond the kids and the house, the families my husband and I were born into also have totally changed. His family changed when his dad died. We limp through family get-togethers without my father-in-law, but it’s not the same. And my family is totally different, too. My mom died. My dad stepped into a relationship—and, consequently, into the family of his girlfriend. My sister divorced then stepped into her boyfriend’s family. My brother moved away. My other brother, who already had moved away, stopped visiting. After my mother died, the whole thing simply disintegrated. To top it off, the house I grew up in—the place where all of us even as adults with our own kids gathered almost every weekend for almost 20 years—is being sold.
As my father has often has reminded me, presumably to explain away his exodus out of my life, “Things change, Domi.” I don’t believe in throwing people away. But the people I’ve known and loved my whole life are no longer accessible to me. I love the people who I came up with. I love them because they are part of me—they share my memories, my experiences. They share my blood. But, realizing I can’t be the only one to fight for the old way to continue, I need to say goodbye now to the past.
Looking through photos is happy/sad. I’m happy about all the wonderful times I’ve had in my life. But sad that they are over. If those times were written into a sentence, there would not be an elipses at the end, or a comma, or even a hyphen. There is a cold, black period, ground down into the paper with the finality of death.
I based who I was on those times. On those people. On my kids as they were. On my youthful face and skinnier body. On my hopefulness. And today, looking through these photos, I had an epiphany. NO WONDER I’ve felt as though I am floating, alone and vulnerable, in the vast blackness of the universe. Everything is different now. My kids are older. The people I used to surround myself with have drifted away. The house where I grew up and also spent most of my adult life hanging out at is no longer in the family. I look different. My husband looks different. Yes, things change.
But it’s not all depressing. My children, for example, are growing into strong young people. My boys, who are taller than me, are kind and thoughtful and fun-loving and purpose-filled. I’m proud of the young men they’re becoming. My daughter, also, is growing into a strong young woman. She is developing her voice and learning who she is as a person. And baby Addy… well, baby Addy is still only six years old. And I’m holding onto her littleness for as long as I possibly can, absorbing every minute of it. There is hopefulness in their faces, a sense of becoming, that is fascinating to watch.
When things began to morph among my own family relationships, at first I tried to hold on too tight. But you’re my sister! My brother! My father! How can you not want to be close any more? I’m starting to realize now, though, that I don’t have to dwell on the past or be propped by old relationships to be a strong and happy person. My family has told me time and again, through their actions or inactions and sometimes even through their words, that they have moved on. So finally… finally, I will, too.
Life is good. It’s good being right here in this moment. Yes, I’m glad for all those happy times from the past. And now that they are over, I’m happy for these jubilant times right here and right now. Open and joyful, I am done longing for what cannot be and finally content with what is.
So it’s time to set free the past, which was wonderful and useful in forming who I am. The past has served its purpose. But now it’s time to say goodbye. It’s time to move on. And it’s time to rejoice in what is now in front of me: the blessings of each moment and every person in my path and the strength and purpose of who I’ve become.
Yes, things DO change. But change is not all bad.