When I was a young child I had a strange image that would often come to me. I would see myself replicated in a long line with my present self at the back and many more versions ahead of me, extending way into the future. In this vision I -my current self- would be waving furiously trying to get the attention of my future selves, but to no avail.
In retrospect it seems much of my young life was spent racing ahead trying to catch up to the me(s) in the front, stretching my current understanding of life and seeking out experiences that would propel me forward.
Interestingly, although I have always felt a need to mark time through journaling, writing, and perhaps even this blog, I have never had any interest in pausing to reflect on what I had written and experienced in the past. I guess I was just too busy trying to get further ahead in line.
But lately I feel a change. The old image of the line has returned but now I find myself occupying a space somewhere comfortably in the middle. And for the first time, I am not straining to push or see into the future.
Instead, I find myself doing something I would have never imagined. I’ve retrieved a box from the attic labeled by my husband “The Mara Chronicles” and am slowly sifting through the poems, essays, and pictures, pausing to remember and appreciate my progression of selves.
It’s a little overwhelming, starting to delve in, unsure where to start and how long to linger. And the presence of my own children adds such interesting lenses and filters. I am holding a report that I wrote back in 1984 on a book that my 9 year old is reading right now. I will share it with her tonight and am wondering if it will be strange, a three-way conversation involving an earlier self who was/is in some ways closer to her than to me.
And when I try to add the overlay of history it becomes almost too much to process- how our experiences, perspectives, and the broader unfolding of time interweave and mingle, making us who we are and who we’ve been, and will become.
For me this interplay between self and history is perhaps best explained through a sample poem from my Chronicles, titled “Berlin, 1988.” As context this was written in my journal during my year as an exchange student in Germany. I was a Junior in high school and spent a week in Berlin with other exchange students with whom I had grown close. We took a subway to East Berlin on the other side of the Wall, and spent the day sightseeing, meeting boys, and trying to be typical 16 year olds. We obviously had no idea that the Wall would ever fall, let alone the very next year…..
By Mara Goodman
Huddled in the haunted
we proclaimed our adulthood
and sang of our country’s honor
We had met impossibility
in the streets of Berlin
and now the shadow of her kiss
left us saddened and gray.
Climbing the wall
we were Americans,
cocky with independence
and a second tongue.
Amused by the novelty
we had giggled through customs,
got drunk on green stuff,
and sick on Eastern cigarettes.
We tried to flirt with a Russian
with a fur hat and big gun,
but he said no.
How hilarious it had all seemed,
we couldn’t even spend our 25 Marks.
But when we met them
the wall grew claws and iron fangs.
They could not know of
the fruit stand,
and colorful graffiti
just on the other side.
They were people
with diluted dreams
born into musts and cannots,
And saying goodbye,
only yards from life
we were helpless
and they were happy to have met us.
When we drove away
we knew that they could not come,
that they would never come,
and we cried for impossibility.