my letter to the world that never wrote to me

Posted by on January 8, 2008

My expectations of returning to a frozen tundra have been soundly overturned by several days of atmospheric strangeness. An evening thunderstorm is utterly surreal behavior for Northern Indiana in January, but the lightening last night was not imaginary: one particular bolt fell with a red flash and an instantaneous boom that almost intruded through our front window.

People talk of global warming, and when they do, it incites unrest in me, and yet I know that a warm day here and there is not a cause for alarm, as weather data must be viewed over long stretches of time– years and years–in patterns. I need to make friends with a weather cryptologist who can crack the code which a warm day in January presents with reasonable balance. All of my friends and neighbors are just as limited to speculation as I am, and we feed each others disquiet.

But through the sensors in my skin, this very day, coming in at me through an open window, evokes a disorienting personal reference to the Floridian Januaries of my youth, or perhaps the northern Aprils of my adulthood. No weather specialist, I am left to my harrassed imagination. What? A world bending and swirling away from me and my child, possibly morphing into unfamiliar patterns, disregarding and disrespecting the ones my skin and brain have already laid down in deep furrows over the course of thirty years–the ingrained catalytic prompters that set off a chain of predictable expectations inherent in each calendar month.

But in the midst of this warm January spell I must call a halt to those expectations and dare not let them be set into motion. I cannot allow myself to feel my spring way, my late-Lenten way, my almost-Easter way today. I cannot look out and expect to see bedewed pink blossoms. I need to dig deep and find my winter diligence–steel myself against the truth of January, February, and March, which are sure to return with a vengence.

We received the slick winter issue of Notre Dame Magazine today. One flip-through shows me profiles of successful alumni: a fashion designer modeling her hand-painted silk top, and so on. I close the magazine; I don’t want to know. For the first time in my life I am sensing a displacement from the category of “young person.” Others, born in startlingly recent-sounding decades, hold that title now.

In many small ways I often feel that the world already belongs to other people besides me, some of them because they’re younger, but others because they’re smarter, or have more energy, or a better education, or a more sensible upbringing, or a more priveleged upbringing, or no allergies, no fractured identities to sort out, no serious hang-ups or confidence problems. Others–whether men or women–may own more of the world because they have not had to slow their trajectory for childbirth or childcare at any time. But then there are others who have had oodles of children and a rainbow of worldly achievements, and then I just have to stop the madness and admit: I am among the weak of the world who can only handle one or two big projects in the course of a lifetime–or maybe none– but according to the Beatitudes Jesus loves these kinds of people, and therein lies comfort and transcendent reality.

My grandmother never in her life touched a computer and had no interest in doing so. Sometimes she would dismiss computers and all computer jargon with a wave of her extremely delicate hand, even while their prevelance among her husband, children, and grandchildren made her feel, I think, somewhat alienated. I never knew how to respond to this, so I just sat and listened in a neutral, respectful, nodding silence, while underneath was an undercurrent of impatience at her lack of understanding, her unnecessary complication of something so simple. What was cryptic to her was easy for me, and yet I could not explain that to her or myself, except to feel that her age and alienation from technology was my badge of youth and belonging to the group who understood effortlessly.

Only now I realize that the badge of youth is only handed out once, and fades and starts to look dated. Now I can identify with the tenor in my grandmother’s voice that expressed a sad sense of separation from the carosel of progress. I feel the beginnings of that separation already and imagine it growing only more and more pronounced. I worry that I may live to see a world of confused real estate in which the Great Lakes become the new Florida Keys. It will be so disorienting that I’ll just have to wave it away with one boney old hand. I have to accept that my daughter will move with fluency in circles–yet unimaginable circles of the future– that I won’t necessarily share with her.

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  1. anna j
    January 8, 2008

    Movingly, expertly expressed, dear Julia. Thank you for voicing a universal truth of life in such a profound and lovely manner: your writing leaves me in awe more and more as time passes, and as you hone your skills–and perhaps even more importantly, as you grow in wisdom and self-awareness.
    humble, gratefully yours,

  2. Jamie
    January 9, 2008

    “Only now I realize that the badge of youth is only handed out once…”
    The way you feel about the out-of-reach accomplishments of others is pretty much the way I feel about your writing, Julia- and despite it being an ego-bashing experience every time, I can’t wait to read whatever you have to say next.

  3. Julia
    January 9, 2008

    Thanks, all of you.

  4. Jenny
    January 19, 2008

    I’m with Jamie–you write so beautifully and say so much through this blog. What a joy to read this post tonight