Thursday March 24, 2011
“This Isn't Me”
Heading home from work through downtown Seattle the other day, I biked, for the first time in two weeks, up that steep hill under the Convention Center that places you near Town Hall. I usually do this hill every day, or at least every weekday, but a few weeks ago we'd had some snow and I don't bike in snow; then I caught the crud that knocked Patricia for a loop at Oscar time and was knocked for a loop myself for about a week. So I was not only out of practice, but, thanks to the lingering cold in my chest, out of breath. I'm sure my face exhibited strain. And near the top I caught sight of a pedestrian looking at me and smiling.
We tend to project our feelings onto the world, so I assumed she was smiling at the strain I was exhibiting. I assumed the smile was slightly disparaging. And I thought the following in response:
“This isn't me.”
I'm usually better than this. I usually make it up this hill a little more quickly and a little less out of breath. Come back in two weeks. You'll see.
Even as I thought that phrase I knew it was only partially true. I also knew it wasn't my phrase. I associate it with a friend's mom, 88 now, who often held forth at parties, martini in one hand, cigarette in the other. I knew her as fiercely independent, a voracious reader, a lifelong Republican who turned against the party when George W. Bush began his shenanigans. But life closes in. Macular degeneration took away much of her eyesight, and thus her beloved books, and thus a great aspect of her independence. She has balance issues now. She falls a lot. She's confused by the telephone. Last year, at a family gathering, she motioned me close, and, holding onto me with the strong grip of the elderly, told me the following in relation to almost nothing going on:
“This isn't me.”
In Kurt Vonnegut's novel “Slaughterhouse Five,” Billy Pilgrim, unstuck in time, is captured by an alien race, the Tralfamadorians, who have a different perception of time. They see it as we might see a mountain range. They look at a being and see all the various beings it's ever been—all the limbs and eyes and mouths and all the different heights and weights.
It's Vonnegut's most famous novel but I read it late, after most of the others, about 25 years ago when I was in the midst of pining for a recently ended relationship. At the time, the notion of time as a mountain range gave me comfort. If it were so, the relationship that I wished hadn't ended, hadn't ended, the way the peak of a mountain still existed. You just looked over there. See it? Why would you feel sad, or cry, over that mountain peak. It's right there.
Someday I would like to live into the wisdom of that view of life and time; but I know me, this constantly changing me, all too well.