I have been thinking about the past a lot recently. Perhaps it is the time of year. Winter in Wisconsin brings long shadows, dwindling cool light and the quietude of snow covered days where we hear the crunch of boots in snow, the sound of our own breathing into scarves and feel the burn of dry cold air in our nostrils and lungs. The landscape becomes monochromatic vast swathes of white, gray, pale blue and brown. In adult life this season seems to lends itself to, or even demand, introspection.
Perhaps it is the lack of stimuli in the long dark winter months that drives us inward like starving beings living on stored fat. In this bleaker time we too live on stored experiences where distant past seems to come forward, intermingled with the most insignificant current-life trigger. Our conscious mind rolls in and out of being present, past, pulled back to present and then buried in past again.
Sometimes I use this time to plan for the future gardens, trips, house projects. Planning for the future keeps memory from taking over...memory brings with it a tumultuous mixture of joys, loss, break through experiences, periods of foggy nothing and occasionally powerful moments disconnected by powerful visual, auditory, sensory memory and poetic connections. All of this floats through my consciousness invading and undermining my attempts at being present. I do try to be present and am successful, but only for short periods at a time.
Perhaps too it is the fact that during that darkness and cold of winter I often take on projects that involve going through boxes of old things, sorting, organizing and even purging (always the goal). In doing so I come across pictures that make me think about things differently, old letters, memorabilia or objects that are like puzzle pieces to the larger picture of the past. Often they are parts from what seems like lifetimes ago or even someone else's life. How can objects from our past feel so foreign sometimes?
In this purging I opened a box that had been stored away for years...correspondence and artwork from a past relationship that broke my heart some fifteen years ago. It was so strange to sift through the layers of letters remembering the feelings, both good and bad, but also in doing so to try to reconcile the fact that we are now total strangers; nine hundred miles away and not having seen each other in 8 years despite the fact that I go to the city where she lives often. She had told me that if our relationship ever ended she would cut off all contact with me. I had thought she was joking at the time, incapable of imagining such an extreme step. But she was true to her word. We meant a great deal to each other for a few formative years during which both of us grew in significant ways. I now keep this sizeable box of correspondence as a document of who I was then with her. Letters as witness to a period in our lives. Letters to help me remember in a more balanced way both the good and the problematic aspects of that time together. That time brought me to where I am now and for that I am grateful. While there are no bright blossoms or sweet smells lingering in the evening air, winter brings us gifts in unexpected packages.