Mar 19, 2004

Lighter days

This was the week the snow melted. Granted, there's still snow in the mountains, which should keep the snow bunnies during Easter vacation happy. But here, at sea level, the snow has gone. The rain came and washed away the winter.

This morning I heard the seagulls. One sign of spring is the 4 am squawking of seagulls eating worms on the lawns. Or whatever the heck it is the seagulls are doing.

I enjoy spring, I like the slow awakening after 3 months or so of gray, naked nature. In February the magpies start to build their nests, and I've been observing several great tits fighting over the bird box my friend Torleif hung up last year. But now I can see the green grass and the ground. I can see a hint of green in trees and bushes as the sap rises. I can even smell the earth.

This spring's different for me, though. I have hungered for it. I have longed for the light, the lengthening days, the lessening of storms and bitter cold. I don't quite know why, though I suspect it has to do with my passage through this past autumn and winter being "dark" in emotional ways.

In the midst of seeing a loved one through her autumn into her winter, I have been desperate for something to counteract that ending. Something that would lift me and keep me going. A sort of hope or reprieve.

The arrival of spring is one less thing to dampen my spirits. And although the truth is that things – such as they are – are all right, I prefer to walk home from the nursing home in fading daylight rather than complete dark.

Mar 8, 2004

Where does time go?

Recently my Grandma wanted to know if I was the one who had told her that her mother had died. I am the one who has to remind her that her mother died – way back in the 1960's, but I'm not the one who told her originally.

Moments like those make it clear to me that time and memory are linked. One does not function or exist without the other. Time helps us organize our memories; remembering what date it is or how old we were (age as time-keeper), helps us sort events. Lose track of time, and the events no longer line up in sequence, but start to happen all at once. At the very same moment my grandma is talking to her adult granddaughter, I am also my mother and my great-grandmother may or may not still be living. The memories pile on top of each other, and with as much order as any pile (last in, first out).

Memory also helps us keep track of time. Remembering what you did today and that it was different from what you did yesterday, actually helps you keep track of the days. Even a calendar is no use if you can't remember some starting point, like remembering you looked at it last on Saturday and that was two days ago, so that makes today Monday and March 8 on the calendar.

There are two signs in astrology that stand opposite each other and so represent two sides of the same thing: Cancer and Capricorn. Cancer is ruled by the Moon and Capricorn is ruled by Saturn. The Moon/Cancer side is known for its memory; Cancers never forget. The Capricorn/Saturn side is associated with time and functions of time (like experience and karma). Saturn's Greek name is Chronos, from which we get words like chronological (in sequence according to time).

The Moon is our past (our memories) and Saturn is our future (utilizing time). Neither exists in the here and now. Instead, they are about how we relate to the abstracts as past and future. Any guru will tell you not to dwell on the past or to count on the future, since neither exists. And any ordinary human will tell you that letting go of the past and not worrying about the future is damned difficult.

Neither children nor the very old have any clear concept of time. Nothing exists for them except right now. They may remember the afternoon if something extraordinary happened, else one day is like the next, and so are the weeks. The very old have some idea of consequences of their actions, which is a memory of how events are sequenced, while children have yet to learn this. Understanding that cause has an effect is a matter for Saturn, and one reason why Saturn is associated with karma and maturity, and why the Moon is associated with childhood. The Moon is associated with emotions as well as memory, and our memories do stir up emotions in us (another reason it's associated with children).

An avid student of astrology once said that Neptune (planet of fog and other things that lack substance, like imagination and illusion) rules high old age, that time in life when your mind wanders off and gets lost. But I wonder if we aren't going back to the Moon phase. People with dementia have very strong emotions, especially when frustrated by not understanding what's going on around them. Old age is also often referred to as a second childhood, and the similarities are plenty: Old people lose their pubic hair (sometimes the rest of their hair, too), they shrink in size, some wear diapers, they live in the now, lose their ability to reason in an advanced (higher intellect) fashion, and mood variations become clearer and more frequent. Some types of dementia lead to a childlike type of misbehaving, like protesting against anything the adults want you to do, and perhaps even giggling while doing it. The roles get reversed and the children now have to look after their parents.

Live long enough and time goes – to the Moon, apparantly. Grandma's droll comment on a gathering around the supper table at the nursing home was "The meeting of the maniacs". Perhaps "lunatics" is the more correct term.