Monday, November 19, 2007

Time Present and Time Past: Ten Twenty Thirty

Time present and time past
Are both perhaps present in time future,
And time future contained in time past.
If all time is eternally present
All time is unredeemable.
What might have been is an abstraction
Remaining a perpetual possibility
Only in a world of speculation.
What might have been and what has been
Point to one end, which is always present.
Footfalls echo in the memory
Down the passage which we did not take
Towards the door we never opened
Into the rose-garden. My words echo
Thus, in your mind.
But to what purpose
Disturbing the dust on a bowl of rose-leaves
I do not know.
Other echoes
Inhabit the garden. Shall we follow?

from BUIRNT NORTON by T.S. Eliot

Mother Laura was prompted by Shawna and Sally's responses to this meme to think about where she was 10/20/30 years ago, and as I'm thinking about where I was 5/10 years ago as I write a proposal for my sabbatical leave, her nudge to me to post about these far away times and places is a good way for me to procrastinate writing said proposal.

1997: I had a one year old, Barnacle Boy, who still did not sleep through the night, and was still nursing. Math Man spent a month in Russia, working with a math research group in St. Petersburg. The boys and I stayed behind in the US. The Boy learned to walk and talk while Math Man was away, his first word was a panic stricken "Dog!", elicited by coming face to face (literally, he was tiny then) with my dad's Labrador retriever, Babe. Crash, at 3, was a seasoned traveler by this point. On a solo trip with both boys to my parents that year, my mother marveled at the sight of him walking down the tarmac and into the tiny terminal towing his own car seat and carry-on. Later that year I left the guys for the first time and flew to Las Vegas to give a talk at the national chemistry meeting. I still have the deep red dress I bought to talk in, and still love it (I'm amazed to think I've had it this long). Crash got the croup while I was at the meeting, the Boy got it the day I got home and ended up being admitted to the hospital. He spent time in the ER being evaluated, while I nursed him and endless people scooted in and out of the room, lifting my shirt up to examine him. I had more people under my blouse that night than before or since!

1987: This was a horrific year - so you may not want to read any farther. The beginning was grace - I was happily married to Tom, who I had met in graduate school; I was in my first year in a tenure track position, we'd bought a house in a great neighborhood. In the spring of that year on Palm Sunday I turned 29. Tom and I loved to play tennis and he had bought me a fancy new racket for my birthday. Even though I had a ton of work to do, the weather that day was so glorious that I decided to play hooky and go play tennis with him. It was a day to savor.

Then, as now, the entire faculty of my college met for faculty meetings, not just an academic senate and in those days we met at night. Though I usually commuted by train to the college an hour away, Tom drove the 50 miles down that Wednesday of Holy Week, planning on swimming his laps in the college pool, with plans to grab a sandwich at the local diner and drive home around 10 that night. In the middle of the meeting, the college president was pulled outside by a security officer to deal with an emergency at the swimming pool. I can still see her tall figure in the doorway, crooking her finger at me to join her in the hallway. Tom had been pulled from the pool with an apparent heart attack, minutes later I was in the ambulance with him on the way to the ER. I clung to the Office all that night, though I'd left everything behind when the president called me out of the faculty meeting: briefcase, breviary, papers to grade. I dug the psalms out of the Bible sitting in the waiting room, and prayed the rest from memory. Tom died on Holy Thursday, of what turned out to be a ruptured aortic aneurysm. The Triduum, not surprisingly, remains an intense time for me. Layer upon layer of passion, death and resurrection, some of which still has the capacity to surprise me.

1977: I was in my sophomore year in college at UC Irvine. Majoring in chemistry, minoring in linguistics, living at home and commuting to college. I was working as a temp every quarter break - and had 8 am language classes the rest of the time. Always a pretty early riser, this year really cemented it for me. I took wonderful courses in anthropology, physiology, and East Asian art history. I drove a brown Karmann Ghia convertible, which had to be push started when it got damp, which it did virtually every time I had a late night lab.

If you'd like to reflect on time present and time past, play and let me know in the comments...


  1. Oh, Michelle. I knew that Tom had died but not how it happened. My heart is breaking for you.

    I'll look back if you'll tell me how to play.

  2. Thank you for honoring us with this powerful sharing, Michelle. You are in my prayers as you continue to process ever deeper levels of its death and resurrection aspects.

    Mary Beth, I never saw any instructions, just assumed that you share where you were and what you were doing ten, twenty, and thirty years ago. I'd love to see yours and to see this one make the rounds some more--it's a great way to get to know people better.

  3. Mary Beth,

    It would be wonderful to have you look back rules that I can discern, other than to use those decades...

    I think I need to find the pieces I wrote about healing and reprint them here!!

  4. Mmmmm.

    It's very neat to get a glimpse of you as an undergrad.

    As you know, I remember when Tom died... (For other folks, I was one of Michelle's undergraduate students then.)

    It's lovely to get a glimpse of 1997, especially since I was out of touch with you then. I'd met Math Man during my second time at BMC -- in fact (cough) I was part of bringing him through an obscure BMC ritual February of his first year (1992?). (I must say he gave a very good Potato Lecture.) I met him again -- and Crash, I believe -- at Reunion. I'd been out of touch with you, and there you were with this toddler! It was wonderful.

    Wow, a sabbatical. !

    - Stasa