This afternoon finds me with a grateful heart as I sort through the thoughtful cards and kind words of family and friends wishing me “Happy Birthday!” I turn fifty today and it is hard to imagine where the last half century has gone, but it is gone. I’m thankful for every moment and every experience that has brought me this far, and I anticipate with joy the days that are ahead, even though, in many respects they are less certain than those early days.
As I reflect upon my youth, it seems that I was incredibly certain about the future back then. I knew exactly where I would go and what I intended to do, and a lot of it I did. But these days I enjoy less certainty, and yes there is a great deal of liberty, albeit trepidation, when it comes to being less certain about the future.
A few weeks ago I read a poem that contained these words, “We look at the world once, in childhood. The rest is memory.” As I continue my journey on this planet, memory increasingly becomes a precious commodity. I relish them. I mine them for all the joy, pain, laughter and tears that they contain. I write them and embellish them in hyperbole, painting them with every adjective I can recall, so that you can catch a glimpse of what was, what is my existence.
Mary Karr observes “Memory is a pinball in a machine -it messily ricochets around between image, idea, fragments of scenes, stories you’ve heard. Then the machine goes tilt and snaps off. But most of the time, we keep memories packed away. I sometimes liken that moment of sudden unpacking to circus clowns pouring out of a miniature car trunk -how did so much fit into such a small space.”
With every passing day, the clowns unload in greater numbers, with greater frequency and absurdities to match. This is the one advantage age will always have over youth -experience. Experience to name and categorize the clowns. When I was young I wasted a lot of time on them and sometimes with them, but now I’m like “I’ve seen you juggle before!” But don’t misunderstand me, the clowns are precious because with them comes a different kind of wisdom, one that given enough experience qualifies you to be a ringmaster.
At a circus the ringmaster directs the attention of the audience, gives guidance, and provides transition for the acts as the parade into the arena, so I hope you will continue to attend the show as there is much more to come.
“Ladies and gentleman, boys and girls, children of all ages, get ready for ‘The Greatest Show on Earth.'”
Nostos by Louise Glück
There was an apple tree in the yard—
this would have been
forty years ago—behind,
only meadows. Drifts
of crocus in the damp grass.
I stood at that window:
late April. Spring
flowers in the neighbor’s yard.
How many times, really, did the tree
flower on my birthday,
the exact day, not
before, not after? Substitution
of the immutable
for the shifting, the evolving.
Substitution of the image
for relentless earth. What
do I know of this place,
the role of the tree for decades
taken by a bonsai, voices
rising from the tennis courts—
Fields. Smell of the tall grass, new cut.
As one expects of a lyric poet.
We look at the world once, in childhood.
The rest is memory.