Time it was, and what a time it was, it was
A time of innocence, a time of confidences
Long ago, it must be, I have a photograph
Preserve your memories, they're all that's left you
Simon and Garfunkel, Bookends
Ordinarily I'm not one to attribute psychological or other arcane symbolism to something as simple as a cold. I'm not one to believe that a physical illness is a sign of some spiritual or psychic malaise...ordinarily.
With 10 days of Christmas break ahead of me, I had the bright idea of finally putting the rest of the family photos into albums, finally getting rid of those boxes lying about on the living room carpet. So about a week about --4 days into my break-- I surveyed the situation, looking at the photos and seeing where I had left off organizing them. I knew it had been quite awhile. Now I had a date. I had stopped in 1997, a dozen years ago. And I looked at picture after picture. My sons were still very young, 10 and 8 years old respectively. Tony's pictures were only vague suggestions of that impetuous, foolhardy, Energizer Bunny who nearly drove us crazy at times. And Joe, who always seemed more mature than his years. A dozen years, and pictures are all that's left...
I kept trying to remember what, if anything, was special about 1997...it's been haunting me like a Zen koan. I've been leading a sort of double life this past week or so, on the outside visiting, talking to people, exchanging Christmas wishes, while on the inside invisibly digging deeper and deeper trying to unearth the meaning encased in those years separating 1997 from today. Finally, on New Year's Day I came down with a miserable cold.
Today I'm finally feeling a bit better and --coincidentally--have gained some insight into the meaning of the koan...
In 1997 I increased my work hours to 20 per week, beginning the transition from full-time child-rearing to the "working world." Also, my mom's Alzheimer's had progressed to the point where I had to place her into a specialized assisted living facility. I can still remember how guilty I felt as I closed the electronically secured door on her. She was physically strong but her mind was totally gone. She had become a wander risk and had indeed locked herself out of the house numerous times or been found by neighbors sweeping the sidewalk at midnight. I was able to bring her home on holidays, and there are a lot of photos of mom sitting next to the kids or my in-laws or next to the cousin and aunt and companion who stayed faithful to her till the end. But when I look at those pictures I say to myself, "Mom had Alzheimer's then" and I remember that she had become more of a child than my children. They were progressing, the boys, while mom was regressing.
Indeed, it does all seem like just a hop, skip and a jump from then till now. The boys progressed to greater self-sufficiency, as happens inexorably with healthy kids. One will graduate from college in June, while the other tours with his band when he's not working or taking courses. I began to work on a master's in French in 1999 and completed it in 2003. Mom became more and more debilitated, finally passing away in 2002. And I officially joined the Religious Society of Friends in 2006. So for me, 1997 not Y2K was the big turning point. But so much for milestones. That's now what my cold is about. It's about digging down and unearthing years that I had purposely tried to leave behind. And --because God is good-- I have not come up empty.