Just a dusting of snow, not much at all, but enough to punctuate the date, December 24, 2016. My neighbor’s have all turned on their tree lights and smoke escapes the chimneys mingling in the morning fog.
I am hunkered down with tea and a laptop, moving forward on a manuscript that has had its hands around my throat for the past year and may finally be loosening its grip. Learning is like that, two steps forward and six steps back.
My husband and I will go to the movies this afternoon. For most of our marriage it has been just the two of us and our holiday rituals are simple. I’m appreciating the quiet that has fallen over our house, the twinkle of tree lights and the promise of roasted duck for two.
My life is blessed beyond measure: a loving husband, fun and kind friends, a beautiful town surrounded by woods and trails, a faithful dog, plenty of food and decent health.
Dear readers, thank you always for stopping by. May your heart be full and your spirit light. Merry Christmas and Happy New Year.
For a short while, everything stayed the same. We sat with our tea in the early morning hours, talking about the day stretching out before us. My husband delighted me with my favorite question. “So,” he would say, “Tell me what’s in your heart.” And I would sit quietly for a minute feeling and pondering before I answered. It was a lovely ritual, freely invoked among tea and the morning papers.
For a while I still read at night. Schooled on the principle that one’s writing is a direct reflection of the quality of one’s reading, I devoured Eudora Welty, Wally Lamb, Margaret Atwood and Toni Morrison. It was not unusual for me to read several books a month. I adored that Oprah Winfrey had a book club and for the first year, I read everything on her list.
But all of that was then, before the hand of technology grabbed our attention with a powerful grip of instant connection that we mistook for instant intimacy. Now, I have to discipline and train myself to wake up and NOT view Facebook, NOT look at my emails first thing. I grit my teeth some mornings as I carry my laptop up the stairs and into my office, where I open my current manuscript and look at the clock. Two hours. Go. And when I have finished writing, I am like the horse that cannot wait to get back to the barn. I open Facebook. Did anyone like what I posted? I fall into cat videos like a drunk stumbling gleefully into another bar.
Measuring out my life in emails, I race into the self-imposed stress that technology hath wrought. Long ago and far away the memory of “tell me what’s in your heart,” has been replaced by business associates on the opposite end of the country who send communications to my husband, compelling him to reply in what used to be the quiet of early morning.
Over the weekend, as we drove back from a visit to Portland, I realized the slow death that consumed us, the underbelly of the digital beast. Raindrops hit the windshield and the wiper blades slid into rhythm. We put on Simon and Garfunkel– perfect for a rainy day. The words went like this:
Hello darkness, my old friend I’ve come to talk with you again because a vision softly creeping left its seeds while I was sleeping and the vision that was planted in my brain still remains, within the sound of silence.
As the music of our youth allowed the flood gates of life past to open, I recalled how the words of Paul Simon had introduced me to the angst of introspection, an unraveling in the dark quietude that I would come to value.
Today there is no sound of silence within which to contemplate a life or even ask the question of who am I? All of that has been replaced by phones that ping messages, tweets, emails all hours of the day and night. The depth of answer as to who I am has been reduced to a selfie posted on Facebook and an unrelenting connection to WiFi. Look at me, it says: this is who I am. This is what I ate for dinner last night. These are all my “friends,” and not a drop of introspection to be found. How do you become a person without the frightening and courageous act of just being alone with yourself, sans gadgets and media?
Of this death I have to ask, what are the consequences of a life lived without the solitary acts of introspection, reflection and the quiet of contemplation? Is it that we become more like sheep? Everyone NEEDS an i-phone, a tablet, a Facebook page. This is the golden age of self-promotion. That’s how business is done. I know I cannot hang onto the past, but I do not wish to be consumed or lose the value that I long ago assigned to introspection.
The thing about the Paul Simon lyrics is that they harken to a time in my life when I was straddling the worlds of child and adult. Attached to that was a required amount of self-examination served up on a bed of grace-filled angst. I eventually grew into someone who enjoyed my own company, understood my flaws and my gifts and wasn’t afraid to break away from the herd, creatively, politically or emotionally. My psychology was not tied up in how many followers, friends or fans I had, but in how well I knew myself and was true to the self that I was discovering.
My generation had poets that modeled introspection and it was part of our right of passage into adulthood. So again, the question arises: what are the consequences of generations who have not known this process as part of their development? How do they summon and access the deeper resilience that life’s challenges inevitably require? How do they make the all-important distinction between their superficial inner voice that craves social media attention and the deeper, more still voice that speaks its truth in silence? How can a writer capture the state of the human story without first knowing the depths of their own story?
What we give up because of technology, we must learn to reclaim through the expression of the human heart, or our very human-ness is sure to perish. So, think about this before you answer: Tell me, what is in your heart?
For me, turning sixty marked the threshold of old age. I will be 62 this year, so now I am really in the thick of it! It does not mean that I have gone gently into that good night, but it does mean that the physical, psychological and spiritual changes of this particular passage are no less exciting or daunting than the changes of my twenties. I recall the young woman who I once was– full of edge and humor, pathos and pain standing on the precipice of life and daring herself to fly.
These past months have brought about a whirlwind of change and resolve and there are days that I marvel at how life continues to build upon itself regardless of years and days that I feel I should just lay down and take a nap until it all passes. My husband and I retired from our business late last summer–thirty-seven years worth of work that came down to some boxes for storage and a few tearful goodbyes. Then we started a consulting business that allowed us to work from home with less hours and far less stress. It provides some purpose, a context into which we build daily hikes with the dog and meals that are now served with leisurely conversation.
And at this strange new threshold that leads into the last chapter we dreamed a new dream. We recently bought a home in a small town in the northwest that will undoubtedly provide a greener moister climate, a larger garden, and a deck from which to watch the world.
I have friends that rail against this age and approach it with fear and even a little anger. You can fight it all you want, but we all march toward death everyday. Since that’s what is true, why not live and embrace every event to the fullest? I like being in my sixties. I will probably like being in my seventies. For once I have some real perspective from which to view a life richly textured–a life that knows the joy of celebration and a life that also knows how to suffer so that suffering can teach and even inspire.
These next months will be more packing and unpacking, a stream of logistical tasks that moves us from Colorado to the great northwest. I picture myself sitting on the deck of my new home, wrapping my hands around a mug of hot tea, watching with wonder as the early morning light creeps across the yard. I see myself sitting at my desk tapping away on the computer recalling or creating stories. And time and time again I see myself holding onto the hand of my husband, my friend, my partner as we look up into the dark sky on a summer night, counting stars and knowing that at the end of this chapter, we will return to the star dust from which we were born.