An essay by guest Gero-Punk
Colleen O’Brien Davis
My fellow Gero-Punk Jenny says that we are time-travelers and I think it is so; at least it has always been true for me. As a kid my time-traveling could only go one direction sending my imagination deep into my future. These days, just a few weeks from my 58th birthday, my time-traveling takes me backward as well as forward.
I was an awestruck kid. The natural world around me held me captivated. I was a ponderer, a wonderer, the kid who lay on a blanket staring in rapt admiration of the sparkly stars in the smog and light pollution free skies of a 1960’s Southern California. Orange blossoms and night blooming jasmine scented the nighttime air. It was a wonderful intersection of time and space in which to inhabit and grow. No wonder that I looked ahead at what the future would hold for me. In the 1960’s the spirit of the year 2000 loomed far ahead as a distant sign post of vast progress. Discoveries and inventions would change our lives; computers would run my home if not the world.
For me the realization that I would be 44 years old as the year 2000 took its place was another source of awe. I wondered what adulthood would hold for me surrounded by the devices of science fiction. I time-traveled ahead to see myself at 44 – very old, many children and for some unknown reason, frizzy hair! I am nothing that I envisioned I would be. Even at 58 I feel ‘not old’. My hair is long, thick, and sleek-after a skilled blow dry; it is my best feature. I have a single son born late in my life. My time machine appears to be flawed.
Jenny, my fellow time-traveler, recently challenged me through her own writing to connect with my future self. This is perhaps a timely exercise for me although I have had enough surprises in my life to understand that “Man plans and God laughs” but peering ahead is a lifelong habit. It is not currently a happy time in my life. After the utter joy of completing my M.A., I have spent an entire year volunteering in two counties and looking for a job. Let me tell you I am an employer’s dream –capable, loyal to a fault and mission driven. I can, to quote Bob Thayes in his cartoon about Ginger Rodgers, “dance backwards and in high heels”. In the last year, however, I have had exactly one interview and no job offers. I am not poor-my husband’s career is soaring. I am, however, deeply discontented, afraid of living my last productive years unable to find meaningful work of my own. More than anything else I fear being haunted by regret in old age and when my guard is down that fear is overwhelming, sickening, despairing.
What would my future older self advise? When I call to my future it is my mother who comes unbidden. A tough, resourceful role model especially in old age, she admonishes me to remember the words of Hubert Humphrey, especially appropriate since I seem mired in the 60’s: “Never give in and never give up.” Find another path, another niche, blaze a trail; write, paint, grow dahlias. Pull yourself up by your boot straps, woman!
My mother muddies the water though. This is not my future voice but hers. I ask her to be still, quiet myself, make room for the elder me and I hear a whisper, softened by the years between us:
“Make it count, kid!”
Colleen Davis O’Brien is a 2012 graduate of the Master of Arts in Interdisciplinary Studies program at Marylhurst University. Her thesis is titled “Mindful journey: A new vision of psychosocial intervention in early dementia.”