Ten years


Sometimes a picture isn’t worth a thousand words, even when there’s two of them. There’s so much they don’t show.

My Facebook feed has contained more than one response to the challenge to post a first profile picture with the most recent, presumably so we can see how hard the last 10 years have aged all of us. (I prefer the framing of one of my friends, who has re-cast it as a 10 years of aging celebration–because so many who were here 10 years ago aren’t now.)

This, of course, got to me to look back at my profile pictures. My very first one was posted about 10 years ago. I don’t think it looks all that different from the one I updated to just a week or so ago (but before I whacked off most of my hair). I’m not quite sure what to make of that.

I feel as if the past five years have most certainly aged me. Hard. Some part of me is a little disappointed to see that they haven’t distinctively marked me–as if, perhaps, the years couldn’t have been as significant as they feel if they don’t show on my face in a more concrete way.

On the other hand, I look at that woman from 10 years ago and recognize that she and the one on the right are, in fundamental ways, in the exact same place: Entering into what feels like a new life, equal parts sad, hopeful, and scared. Trying to make the best of it, to embrace the lessons and release the regrets. What does that mean? That I have made no real progress at all in a decade? Is that why my face looks mostly the same?

Earlier today, I read a post from Jena Schwartz on the idea of having one’s shit together–which is really about the false notion that we can reach some state of stasis, in which we will have arrived…somewhere. Some place we can count on being stable and fixed and right. But, as she says, there is no true end or arrival to anything, as long as we are still living:

The thing with end times is that they aren’t really the end. What will come after this moment of chaos and crumbling?

The woman on the left, she knew she was in the end times and was scrambling her way to what would come after the chaos and crumbling. She didn’t even let the dust settle before she began rebuilding, which would probably explain some of what came later.

Five years after what I thought was my end time, a friend was going through a difficult divorce. (Is there any other kind?) We talked about it a lot, and many of those conversations recalled for me my own experience of ending the family I’d made with and for my children, and how disorienting and uncomfortable and flat-out painful that time had been. I remember going home one day after one of those conversations and saying to the person I lived with, “I am so thankful to be past that, to know that the foundation of my life is solid.” Even as I said it, though, and believed it, I felt an urge to knock on wood or to take the words back, as if saying them out loud would jinx me. It was a time I now know was the very beginning of what would become my next important end, and maybe some part of me could only intuit then what the woman on the right understands fully now: Nothing is guaranteed.

We are all one accident, diagnosis, situation, revelation away from chaos.

Despite good, hard efforts and hopes and wishes and prayers and affirmations and anything else we might throw at a problem, including money and therapy, some just can’t be solved–and everything falls apart, even the things we hold most dear. While there are moments of mistakes and words that become regrets, often it’s ultimately no one’s fault, not really. It’s just how it is.

What to do with that knowledge? It can feel like a burden, but if you view it–like this challenge–through the right frame, you can see the gift in it.

For the woman on the right, it’s a relief to know that she can stop chasing after a certain kind of security. She can let go of the idea that she’s some kinds of failure because she’s never been able to keep it. She can live more in the day and moment she’s in, appreciating what she’s got right now because she knows that, more likely than not, a day will come when she doesn’t have it, and there’s nothing she can (and therefore should) do about that. On a bright, cold winter weekend day, she can both feel sad about what’s passed and comforted as she looks up and feels kinship with trees stripped bare of their leaves, marveling at their backdrop of sapphire sky and the sun that illuminates every lovely knob, twist, and wrinkle of their branches, knowing that another spring is coming, and soon.

10 thoughts on “Ten years

  1. Marian says:

    This post is reminding me of the one you wrote about the apron (I think?) and sewing it and not-sewing it and feeling like you couldn’t get your shit together and Sarah (where is Sarah?! I miss her) said, “No, no, no, you are NOT to infer THAT from THIS!” In other words…I don’t think you should go to a place where you wonder if you’ve not learned anything from the past ten years, just because your profile picture doesn’t show that you look markedly aged. I think many of us are simply very, very good at hiding the things we’ve gone through, either because we’re private or because we don’t want to burden others or because we know that one letting-go will cause us to completely fall apart. I can look at many photos of me and search my face for clues—some sign of what I so vividly remember I was going through—and no, there’s nothing there…

    So much resonates for me with the linked piece—which went from shit-together-ness to existentialism—as well as with you feeling that need to knock on wood or recall words. It definitely is both a burden and a gift, to see and feel all these things so deeply, to feel the threat of loss right there alongside the joy. Related, I think: Today I listened to a segment on CBC Radio about Samuel Beckett. I’ve no doubt you know all about his work, but today was my first exposure. It’s strange how it often seems like everything I hear/see/read converges to the same essential points. (It even all seems to fit with the blog post I’ve been working on—yet another that I probably won’t be able to hit publish on. Speaking of not being able to get shit together…)
    Thank you for putting your words here, Rita. It’s enormously helpful to be able to talk about all these things with others who are seeing and feeling the same things.
    xo Marian
    P.S. I love the new ‘do 🙂

    • TD says:

      Marion, This week I discovered CBC Radio because of a tweet on a series by Hillary McBride on anxiety and depression called “Other People’s Problems” that I think Rita and you might relate. https://www.cbc.ca/radio/opp
      And I’m very interested in getting up the courage to press that publish button!

    • Rita says:

      Hi Marian,
      Speaking of shit not together, sorry for the long pause in this conversation. Work. ‘Nuff said. I miss Sarah, too!

      I am not really wondering if I’ve not learned/changed that much in ten years. The question was rhetorical. I KNOW exactly how much the last ten years have marked me. I am surprised it doesn’t show more. But I agree with you–it is so hard to really know what is happening for someone under their outward appearance. I’ve learned that over and over in my line of work, and still I’m often surprised. The week I came back from break person after person revealed struggles with really difficult things, and each time I was amazed at both the level of pain they were carrying and their ability to soldier on with the business of their everyday lives.

      I am not very familiar with Samuel Beckett at all. But I have often had that experience you describe, of things converging. It feels as if the universe is pointing you to something it really wants you to see. It is probably just more a sign that we are open to seeing something, but I prefer the more romantic idea that there’s some force conspiring to deliver to us exactly what we need at exactly the time we need it. I love that feeling, actually.

      And thanks for the new ‘do encouragement. Still adjusting! 🙂

  2. TD says:

    Rita, This is right in sync with a long winded text to a friend that I was processing my feelings. You said it all much better with amazing clarity!
    What timing!!!
    Thank you for sharing your thoughts with me through your blog.

  3. Kari Wagner Hoban says:

    Will YOU be my therapist? I need to adopt your school of thought because after reading your posts, I feel better. Thank God I found you years ago. You are a blessing to me, know that.

    Also, your new profile picture is hot.
    Hubba hubba.

    • Rita says:

      I don’t think you really want me to be your therapist…:-) Let’s just keep being friends. I always feel better after reading yours, too. They always make me smile. The blessing goes both ways, for sure.

  4. Kate says:

    I can’t say I haven’t visible aged in the last ten years. Some of it is that I stopped coloring my hair but unlike you and Marian, my exterior doesn’t hide much. I’ve got crow’s feet and laugh lines (and some sagging angry lines too), eye bags, and boobs that are a few scant inches from my belly button. I’m not going to lie, I hope 40-50 doesn’t age me as much as 30-40, but I look at what I’ve gained. Which brings me to your point about never really being done and chaos because I was just talking to my therapist about this. I still have some idea that I can be DONE. If I just work really, really, really hard at some point I feel like I will be able to just coast. Except I’m not EVER done. I’m messy. Life is messy. Everyday. I hate that. But I also wouldn’t trade it.

    • Rita says:

      I just love this, Kate. I have that same idea about arriving and coasting. I was able to release it in London, but I know me. It’s most likely going to sneak up on me and take residence in my psyche again when I’m not paying attention. Then everything will go to hell again in some new way and I’ll be like, “Oh, yeah–I remember that lesson. Damnit.” I also love/hate the messiness of life. It’s where most of the beauty comes from, and I’m not willing to live without the beauty. Damnit. I really could do without the eye bags though. What’s happened to me post-50 is that my bags now have bags. I think 40-50 will be relatively easy on your body. But hang onto your hat (boobs?) once you cross the threshold of 50. That’s a whole new thing altogether, not gonna lie.

  5. TD says:

    You two had me laughing! Between Kate’s description of boobs that are a few scant inches from my belly button to Rita’s eye bags now have bags.
    That took me back in time to my 1st University dorm roommate days at age 18. I walked into our tiny room to find her laying on her bed with sliced iced cucumbers on each eye! I had never seen anything of the kind. I didn’t know what happened to her that day. She said, “There is no way that I’m gonna to have eye bags like my mother!” And she meant it as an ongoing nightly ritual. We are still in touch with each other and its rare but periodically mike the effort to see each other. At 55, I did keep my mouth shut 🤐 about her bags didn’t just have bags, but suitcases! I thought about all those cucumbers and truly wanted to know if she still did the cucumber ritual. I didn’t dare to ask. And I was equally impressed she kept her lips zipped about my belly roll and bat wing arms! How did I go from athletic skinny bone to this shape at 55! We are turning 59 now and still talking via text about our body growing pains… I hope I get to read you to typing out words so funny as you reflect and express who stole my body and put me into this one!! Definitely we must find our sense of humor…

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