This Blink of Time

Today is my birthday.  My 80th, would you believe?  I add “would you believe?” because I don’t quite believe it myself.  That’s despite the fact that I’ve been trying out the number for months, mostly inside my head, sometimes out loud.  “Hey!  You’re 80!”

I’ve been saying it when I do a full Pilates hang, suspended by my ankles.

I’ve been saying it when, despite that full hang, I find myself suppressing a groan when I rise from a chair.

I’ve been saying it when I dive back into the novel I’ve been working on for too long and discover that I’m repeating myself . . . again.  Do I do that when I talk as well?

I’ve been saying it when I find the world wearying, threatening, horrifying.  “You’re 80!  Perhaps you won’t have to live into whatever is coming.”

I’ve been saying it when I gaze out at the wonder of a new day, budding trees or swirling snow, and ask how many more such gifts await me.

I never expected to be 80, though the irony is that I don’t suppose I’ve been expecting to die, either.  Does any of us truly believe that inevitable, uncompromising end will be our own?  Every life is a blink between two unknowns, and as I have never tried to imagine my whereabouts prior to my birth, I don’t attempt to fathom what lies beyond these days I have been given.  But my death grows larger in me every day.

Along with the hope that I may arrive there with some grace intact.

Eighty seems such a venerable age that I tell myself I should have some wisdom to impart on this page.  But I don’t feel wise.

I have made a lot of mistakes along the way and learned a few things in the process.  The two are not unrelated.  Mostly I learned because I made mistakes.

I married almost 60 years ago, though I had little desire for the man I decided to marry.  (I had never desired any other man, either, and was incapable in that homophobic time of understanding why.)  I thought him a fixer-upper.  I knew he wasn’t all I wanted, but I planned to bring him around.

I learned that I am the “fixer-upper.”  When I finally realized how difficult it is to grow and change myself, I understood the futility of attempting to change anyone else.  I understood, too, that no one of his gender could ever meet my needs.

Now, in our mutual age, my one-time husband and I live a great distance from one another, but we come together often on Words with Friends and on FaceTime where we rejoice in and occasionally worry about our progeny.  We each accept the other tenderly, unquestioningly.  That acceptance represents an abundance of learning on both sides.

Fifty-four years ago, I gave birth to a son, a child so longed for that my desire for him, my need to mother him, lived in my bones.  And from the time he was very small, he defeated me every step of the way.  Lovingly.  Masterfully.

When Peter died at the age of 42 of a disease that robbed him of control of his body and of his intelligence and finally of his sanity, too, I learned, at last, that he had always been the only son he could be.

I learned, too, that the love that lived between us was enough.

I started my life trying to fit in, seeking approval.  And I learned that I don’t fit in and that approval has very limited value.  I’m not made for the kind of coupling society demands.  The activities so many care about don’t appeal to me.  And my mind, while possessing a certain uniqueness, lacks some very basic skills.

Maybe no one ever fits in, truly.  Maybe we each feel in some way alienated and alone.  And maybe we all have to learn, as I am finally beginning to learn, that it is enough to be who we are given to be.

Who am I?  All my life that question has puzzled me.  I have no answer.  None.  I don’t even know what might make an answer possible.

But as I move into this end time, I am beginning to understand something else.  I am a human becoming.  I am a verb, an action, not a noun.  I am not, will never be, a static thing that can be labeled and explained.  Even to myself.

I am a human in process, making mistakes—oh, so many mistakes—and learning and moving on.  And learning again.

And while I’m learning, I rejoice in the love that happens along the way.

Finally it is only the love that gives this blink of time purpose and meaning and even holiness.

59 thoughts on “This Blink of Time

  1. Patricia Bauer

    Happy belated 80th birthday, Marion! Thank you for sharing your wisdom, despite what you said about not being wise. I have often told friends, colleagues and students that you taught me more than anyone else about writing. And I thank you so much for that! And for sharing your wonderful books with the world! Warm wishes to you!

    Reply
  2. David LaRochelle

    Happy Birthday, Marion. And thank you for all that you have taught me – I just referenced you when I was giving a talk to other authors about giving school presentations. I remember how skillfully you kept the attention of a huge auditorium of students at a young authors conference years ago.

    Reply
    1. Marion Dane Bauer

      Oh my, David. It’s hard even to remember what that skill might have been. I loved those days, as I loved teaching, and I’m glad to be on this side of them. Thank you so much for your kindness.

      Reply
  3. Martha Bird

    Your birthday writing feels like a Memoir in a Pocket. Thank you for that as you know I wait with anticipation for every “next one” that comes to you and you share with us.

    Reply
    1. Ricki Thompson

      Thank you, Marion. We all need to shine a torch for one another as we walk our common journey. And that journey sure feels darker as we get older. I was actually relieved when I turned 70 this year because my mom had died at 69 and I thought I might be destined to travel her path. But like you, here I am, with my aches and fears and loves and giggles, marching on. Good to hear your voice!

      Reply
  4. Norma Gaffron

    Marion, I dawdled away the time until I missed saying it on your day – Happy Birthday! 80 is special.
    At 87, my every day is special – and I’ve been trying to do what you said was your goal: being “creative in terms of living.” Even if it means just putting on argyle socks to match my t-shirt, or wrapping a birthday gift with a shiny red ribbon. (I’m sending an imaginary one to you…)

    Thank you for sharing your life with all of us. You’ve helped us so generously in so many ways.
    From an old student, still learning.

    Reply
  5. nancyboflood

    Thank you once again – and again – for the gift to this world of your words, your honesty, your love, unconditional and indeed a verb not a noun. My love to you, Nancy

    Reply
  6. Debby Dahl Edwardson

    Dear Marion, my mentor and my dearest friend: thank you for this, for saying it so well and so authentically. I wish you the richest of birthdays. With love and hope for the decade ahead,

    Debby

    Reply
  7. Cynthia Cotten

    Beautiful, wise words, Marion. Happy #80–may you add many more to that number before you reach that second unknown. Much love to you.

    Reply
  8. Gretchen V Hansen

    Celebrate your 80th Birthday with great love, Marion. I appreciate your writing, and especially your honesty in becoming a human, a being in process, which once begun, never arrives until one has left. And in your eighty years, you have learned the best there is that care-giving is the most love one can truly impart, a blessing for both receiver and giver. Thank you for sharing and celebrating, Marion.

    Reply
  9. Faythe Dyrud Thureen

    Happy Birthday, Marion Dane Bauer! Thank you for your wonderful books I continue to enjoy and for the times our paths have crossed in places where your voice have blended with others to teach and learn. I’m following close behind you on the way to 80 and hope to do a better job mixing 3-generation caregiving with writing in the future!

    Reply
  10. Mary Goulet

    Welcome to the eighties. I’ve been in them for six years. I’m so happy to have shared some of your earlier years with you. You’ve been an influence on me to finally try to give writing a chance.

    Oh, yes, I, too, never think I will die in spite of the fact that between my age and my health it draws nearer….in the blink of an eye. Where has time gone?

    Keep writing, you give many of us hope and inspiration.

    Have a wonderful day and a year to celebrate being eighty.
    With love and best wishes,
    Mary

    Reply
  11. Kathi Appelt

    Happy birthday, Mama Bear. This essay is stunning in its honesty and beauty. Only you could have written it, a gift to us, your devoted yours. I look forward to seeing what your eighties bring.
    xoK

    Reply
  12. Nina Kidd

    Happy Birthday, Marion!
    Since we met at VCFA twelve years ago, I returned to journalistic writing and PR, where I began. But what you shared about writing, and the value of story to make sense of the world, have continued as my guideposts. Writing is loving, and loving is the reason. (That’s where I am to date. May know the rest when I’m 80!) Thank you for loving us students, and sharing your joy. At least finally I understand what it means to wish you Many Happy Returns of the Day!

    Reply
  13. Susa Silvermarie

    Happy Birthday Marion. Thank you for speaking at the Loft long ago about the wonderful program of VCFA and for handing me the application information years before I ever enrolled at age 60, It was then my good fortune to have you for a role model and an amazing writing mentor and instructor. I, too, “rejoice in the love that happens along the way of life.”

    Reply
  14. Anna Marie Black

    By stating you “don’t feel wise” shows that you are indeed, wise. As with humility. If one is humble, one does not need to proclaim it.

    Continue to impart your wisdom, since indeed that becomes one of the tasks (and blessings) of those in their later decades. Many Years!

    Reply
  15. Judi Logan

    Oh, Marion! I remember a walk along a path at a convent in Wisconsin so many decades ago. Your words were so wise and loving then — it doesn’t surprise me that these words that came like a gift into my computer today touch me deeply. You probably have no idea of the throngs of people you have inspired along the way. Happy 80th to one of the real-ist human becomings I have ever met! May you rejoice in many love happenings along the way in the coming year!

    Reply
  16. Carol LaChance

    Beautifully written and I agree, each of us in our own way struggles with the need to fit in. I too am learning, through my mistakes, that it is by being oneself that life is most meaningful. I blossom because of not in spite of my challenges. Happy, happy 80th birthday! Thank you for your work; I have used your novels many times in classrooms.

    Reply
  17. Laura Kvasnosky

    I once heard artist Jacob Lawrence say that we are here to show eachother the way. You do that for me. Thanks. And happy 80th Birthday!

    Reply
    1. Marion Dane Bauer

      Thanks, Amy. Some time ago I heard a woman in her 90’s interviewed who said, “My eighties were my most creative decade.” And I thought, “That’s going to be my goal!” Not creative in terms of pushing out lots of work. Creative in terms of living.

      Reply
  18. Melanie Heuiser Hill

    Happy happy birthday, Marion! I’m so glad you were born and so glad our paths have crossed. Celebrate your wise 80 years today!

    Reply
  19. Connie Currie

    I also never fit any pattern. I loved my husband, learned a lot from him, miss him but not in the so called regular way. I have always gone my way. I couldn’t produce a child, so we adopted our daughter. I couldn’t love any child any more than I love my Jeanne. I’ve also made many mistakes, wasted much of my life fighting society. I am 82 and I know how you feel.

    Reply

Leave a comment.