One of my pandemic projects was gathering memories and writing a memoir. The exercise proved useful in various ways—helping me see overall patterns, and letting gratitude bubble to the surface in a dark time. I was interested in noting how much of the past I relived as I remembered and wrote. I experienced the emotions I had as a child or young person. And I recognized that I still face the same types of situations and feel the same emotions now as an older adult, although on a different scale.
That’s what remembering literally means—bringing together the scattered members into a whole. It’s Humpty Dumpty with a better ending: all the king’s horses and all the king’s men actually manage to put Humpty together again. I discovered all the past ages, developmental stages, and transitions are alive and well inside this present me.
I’m an excited three-year-old child, standing in the grass on Easter morning, told to go ahead and find the colored eggs and chocolate bunnies that I know are out there. I’m eight years old, terrified by the two bullies who live down the street, who chase me home from school one day, swinging a stick. Today I have moments of panic thinking about a global bully who swings the threatening stick of nuclear power.
I’m that high school freshman, desperate about slow development and what she considers a sub-standard wardrobe; she wants nothing more out of life than to be a cheerleader. Can you believe that even now I get bursts of jealousy over the better dressed older ladies in the retirement home?
I’m the college graduate, soon to be married, afraid but also shining with hope, excited for all that’s coming my way. Even the older me feels that way some mornings.
I’m in my mid-forties, caught up in the stresses of juggling goals, accomplishments, failures, and the need to establish my place in the order of things. Yep, even today I can find myself needing to assert my place and my role.
I’m that woman approaching the age of retirement, juggling faith and doubt, sometimes wondering what the fuss was all about. And once again I’ve become a grandma for the first time, amazed at how such a little mite could inspire feelings of awe and wonder.
It's all me. And in the strange grammar of life, it’s all present tense.
When someone today asks me how old I am, I tell them I’m 76. But I know that’s only a partial truth. Actually, I’m two-years old. I’m eight. I’m 14. I’m 22 and 35. I’ve just celebrated my 40th birthday. I’m 52 and 67.
That’s how old I am. Glad you asked.
I wonder if maturity means finally being able to bring our whole life back together, to welcome the past into the present, to recognize that all of it, all the ages, are us. That probably requires forgiveness, not only of those who’ve hurt us, but of ourselves, for all the times we behaved in ways that were petty or mean or just plain selfish.
I’m learning to hold all those ages and stages of my life with compassion, taking my cue from how God sees me. While that doesn’t give me the freedom to stomp my two-year-old foot and throw a fit, I can recognize any present foot-stomping tendencies, tell them There, there, settle down, and laugh at myself. It’s all in there. It’s all me.
And now, there’s something I’d like to know about you.
Mainly, how old are you?