April 2018

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Living Backwards

"Now ordinary people are born forwards in time, if you understand what I mean, and nearly everything in the world goes forward too. This makes it quite easy for the ordinary people to live. . . . But I unfortunately was born at the wrong end of time, and I have to live backwards from in front, while surrounded by a lot of people who live forwards from behind."
- Merlyn in T.H. White's Once and Future King

Our birth is but a sleep and a forgetting:
The Soul that rises with us, our life's Star, 60
Hath had elsewhere its setting,
And cometh from afar:
Not in entire forgetfulness,
And not in utter nakedness,
But trailing clouds of glory do we come 65
From God, who is our home:
Heaven lies about us in our infancy!
Shades of the prison-house begin to close
Upon the growing Boy,
But he beholds the light, and whence it flows, 70
He sees it in his joy;
The Youth, who daily farther from the east
Must travel, still is Nature's priest,
And by the vision splendid
Is on his way attended; 75
At length the Man perceives it die away,
And fade into the light of common day.
--Wordsworth, "Ode: Intimations of Immortality"

Like Merlyn, I seem to be living backwards in time. It seems that many others believe, like the poet William Wordsworth, that their youth was the time when they were most connected to a divine spirit, to the center of their true selves.

That was the message of Pastor Jim's sermon today, a message that echoed Wordsworth's mullings in his "Ode: Intimimations of Immortality."

As Jim talked about having felt more whole, more connected to our dreams in our youth, heads nodded, indicating that for some of those with greying hairs in our community, life has moved them away from their true selves. There seems to be a melancholy about this loss.

Though I like Jim a  lot and like to encourage him in his preaching, today I could not nod my head. Life for me has gotten better, not worse, through the years.

"Children," he said, "seem closer to God." Heads nodded. I think I heard a sigh.

I was happy as a child (at least until middle school.) I had fun. I loved the swings, and I discovered with awe that bricks, when rubbed together, make sand.

I do not believe that as a child I had a clear vision of who I might be, so there was no vision to shatter. I did have a vision of a lovely life, but I did not necessarily envision that that lovely life would be mine. I bit my lower lip and wondered what life I might have.

Now I know. In my life, there has been some loss, especially through these tumors. I can no longer run after a soccer ball or read a passing billboard sign. I can no longer make it through the day without at least a couple of naps.

More abundant for me, however, has been the grace in living a lovely life. I got to be a high school teacher and witness genius and kindness and hope. I have visited places like Lalibella, Ethiopia, and Guarjila, El Salvador, places I could not have imagined from the cul-de-sac of my suburban youth.

I get to live my life with a woman who loves me and with whom I feel whole. I get to wonder at fall colors, spring roses, and frozen berries in the early snow fall. I get to read poetry and nod my head, "Yes."

In living backwards, I grow into my naivete, a wonder in the world, a joy in every day living. I grow into my Yes.


  1. lovely post, Mary. I vote to include this in the book!

  2. Yes, yes, yes... beautiful and I agree.


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