A Snapshot of Auld Lang Syne

canstockphoto10299946I always find the time at the beginning of the new year to be particularly poignant. It’s around this time that I turn into an internet detective, in search of the people who were, for years at a time, part of my life and then no more. Where had they gone? Who had they become?

As a writer, I put it down to an inveterate curiosity about stories. How did their story turn out? Some of it is predictable. The roommate who allowed her cats to replicate into a plague has postings full of cats. The boyfriend with the boob fetish married a large-bosomed woman. But then there are the surprises – the compulsive gambler now crime investigator. The ladies’ man with his life partner, Steve.

You see the broad arc of their lives and wonder about one’s own trajectory. Have I changed much over the years? If someone looked at my life from the outside would they just nod knowingly and say yep, that’s no surprise. Or would they raise their eyebrows? Really? Wow, I never thought she’d___________.

What isn’t a surprise is how we age. We all seem to be leaning towards a pumpkin shape with lots of gray hair or none at all. I’d go to a Facebook page and it would seem like the person was posting youthful pictures of themselves, but they would be pictures of their children and grandchildren.

It leads me here, thinking about what truly brief lives we live and how many details are packed into those lives. Internet searches are reductive, distilling our lives down to one-dimensional facts and pictures. Whole lives cannot be reflected on a screen. If the devil is in the details, the devil is what makes us who we are.

canstockphoto42205858The picture of a glamorous couple smiling from a beach in Aruba cannot show that they met in a support group for grief or alcoholism. It cannot show the nights of tears or the lack of trust they had to get through in order to become that picture. It cannot show that he’s been cheating on her the last four months and that she has given up on being loved. It cannot show that on the second Tuesday next month, at 7:32p.m., on their way to visit his mother at the nursing home, they will be killed by a drunk driver.

It is only one detail, this picture, a single moment in their lives. It does not tell their story.

To look at a picture is only a short segment of thread in the rich tapestry that makes a human life. Our characters, our weird twitchy little habits, the things that give us pleasure and enrage us, what we think is funny or sexy or ridiculous, what makes us weep – take one human being, imagine those details and multiply it by 7 billion.

canstockphoto9029485Perhaps this is why I sit here, full up on visual images, but famished for stories. It is not enough to see the photo flip book of someone’s life, multiplying and aging and losing shape. I have the momentary urge to write, call, or email. What to say? Can you tell me what happened between Point A, when I knew you as the person who could drink me under the table, and Point B, when you posted a picture of a very large collection of paper-mâché elephants?

The take on this, like most perspectives, is a matter of choice. Let the melancholia wash over me for lost friends and connections. Or realize that what lies behind portends what is ahead. The continued shuffling through more of humanity, the lives we touch and are touched by. The writer’s mercenary safari for more material and character studies.

canstockphoto651525.jpgI’m of the school of thought that the past is past for a reason. That we grow and change and hopefully evolve beyond our initial capabilities. Looking back only serves to remind us of progress and of the many lessons we’ve learned on this journey, with its inevitable end. Perhaps all we can do is bow our heads in thanks to those who, for better and for worse, met us on the road.

23 Comments on “A Snapshot of Auld Lang Syne

  1. As I was reading your blog post, all I could see was a patchwork quilt, each square representing a moment in time. We all have one, each is uniquely ours, some are more colourful than others and they’re all different sizes. It would be interesting to see if we have any in common with those whose paths we’ve crossed and even those we didn’t.

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    • I tend to think of it as a tapestry, each section, each portrait interwoven with all the others – generationally, geographically, genetically. We have more in common than we acknowledge, because it’s easy to get distracted by surface distinctions and not the underlying connections. I’ve been reading a lot of science lately, so my brain is little overwhelmed by how complex humans are.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. A beautiful reflection. I found especially poignant the graph beginning “The picture of a glamorous couple ……”

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    • I thought about how I made the paragraph have so many negative outcomes. I was trying to contrast it with the beautiful photo, but I think, too, it could easily be them celebrating their new grandchild, winning the lottery, being cured of cancer, traveling the world.

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  3. Beautifully written and thought-provoking, Michelle. I try not to dwell in the past, but as a writer there are always inspirations to be found there. I’m finding that more and more, I don’t need answers to the what or the why, but enjoy dwelling in the mystery. Even our own stories are so filled with twists and turns, we can only interpret them from one point in time—the next time we look, everything appears different. It’s a mystery….

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    • Shifting perspectives is a mystery unto itself. Aging is like looking at our lives through a kaleidoscope, each turn, each bit of time passing by, gives a completely different perspective. I have been trying to cultivate my awareness of perspective, as that is a real challenge in writing fiction.

      Your desire to stay in the mystery is akin to my desire to lean into uncomfortable feelings. It’s where all the meaningful stuff happens.

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  4. I enjoyed this so much, Michelle. As the years go by, something, or someone, will remind me of friends and acquaintances from my high school days and I find myself wondering, “What were their home lives like? Did they have loving parents? Brothers? Sisters? What will they do, and where will they go after high school?” Sometimes I’ll find out but, usually, I’m still left to wonder. Thanks again for a great read.

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    • It’s funny how myopic we were as teenagers. And how age begets curiosity – or at least I hope it does. I found that most of us went on to lead ordinary lives and a few of us didn’t live long at all. That’s always a shock to the system – when you remember someone youthful and happy and find out they died decades ago. Still, it always makes me realize how short life really is and how quickly it seems to go by. That went dark fast, didn’t it? Woke up with a strong dose of melancholia this morning!

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  5. Two thoughts occur:
    1. The couple smiling on the beach is what that person wants the outside world to see, a careful if maybe not a conscious life-edit.
    2. What a great way to flesh out characters in a story!

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    • Hello, Soon-to-be Sooner State Sandy! I saw your post and wanted to respond when my brain cylinders were firing. Might be a long wait.

      In response to your comment, I keep thinking about this issue of authenticity and editing, because of course, picture postings are not the only place this happens. I began thinking about how we edit things and what we emphasize and what that says about us. And that sent my brain off in a ten different directions…I can tell it’s going to be a doing day and not a thinking day!

      Liked by 1 person

  6. It’s a sonder tale – every single person has their story, their entire world, separate but not separate from you or me or anyone else. We connect in the briefest, or in the most prolonged and intimate of ways. Everyone has their unique story, living in their own world, but I think it’s impossible to ever really know someone else’s story. All we can do is guess, even for those we’re closest to. This post got me thinking about all this. And the word sonder. And how it makes me feel. The enormity of it.
    Alison

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