The Narrowing

Paradise Valley 2 resized

 The summoning of Courage is the most dangerous of spells. For you cannot summon Courage to do one thing. You must summon Courage to do all things.”

As I turn 65, I am increasingly aware of a Narrowing in my life, the sense that the parameters, the boundaries, have closed in, and will continue to do so. My life, which had been a pyramid, has become a pillar. I am the atlas alone atop the stone, bearing the weight of the decisions that have placed me here

It makes sense in a way. The narrowing may have started soon after the most notable widening of my life. In 1993, I moved to Minneapolis. My wife and I had started our marriage in Washington DC, which was home to me. But she hated the traffic and her job and possibly me. So we decided to move to Minneapolis, her home of many years. I had hoped the move might rescue the marriage, but it didn’t. It did open my eyes in other ways, though, as moving someplace new can do. And Minneapolis, despite or because of the grand disruption of my life and plans, Minneapolis with its lakes and arts and smiling people, opened my creative heart, and the city became a muse.

My mind, which had always been pretty open, waited for its own muse, and it was not long in coming. In 1997, after the marriage had ended in the mutual recognition that we had engaged in hopes unfounded in reality or personality, I took a solo car trip across country, a transcendental journey described elsewhere. This was I think the widest moment of my life, where any road seemed open to me, reaching its apex on a highway on the plains of South Dakota, as the limits of the world fell away, the road went on forever, and the moment was defined by freedom.

But as I discovered on that trip, in choosing one road, others are let go. In the year or two that followed, I chose two roads. I chose to be a writer, and I chose to take care of family.

I see now (though I did not completely at the time) that in making those choices I let others go. Marriage or any kind of romantic partnership was not included. Deep friendships in essence became infrequent companions in practice. No one asked me to make these choices. I made them, and I don’t question the choices now, because they seemed best to me then, and what good would it do anyway? Focus and necessity became my principles, though perhaps they were only a cover. Perhaps the Narrowing had already begun.

My choices came with a cost, and that cost has become the Narrowing. My life is circumscribed into smaller and smaller limits. A trip to the store or Starbucks is my adventure for the day. I dream of travel, but the effort and stress and uncertainty seem beyond my powers. I don’t drive at night, or on the highway, or to places I don’t know. I have lived in this apartment for nearly twenty years, not because I like it (though for the most part I do), but because the thought of uprooting my life at this age, and from within this solitude, is daunting.

I watched this Narrowing towards the end of my parents life. Once world travelers, wonderful friends, wide readers, their world became chair and bed, television and tray, doctor and hospital. I live in a retirement community and I see daily that my life is not the only one Narrowed. Many others around me have been, by grief, by isolation, by illness, by money, by age itself.

The Narrowing in my case is based less on capacity than on fear. I see this. But so far I have not been able to work past it. As an intelligent person, I feel that I should be able to. I should be able to solve this problem. And sometimes I feel that I am on the brink. I am not sure of what–a widening, reformation, a renaissance? So far the brink is as far as I have reached.

Yet other times, as I sit in my chair and listen to music or read or write, I have a vision I can only dimly apprehend, like the Xanadu of Coleridge (without the opium), a vague sense that the Narrowing is in its own way a transition to be embraced.

As the pyramid narrows into the pillar, the atlas atop climbs higher. The base is more unsteady, and toppling is a twist away. But the scene is expansive. We see farther, and further. Beyond ourselves. And when the clouds dissipate, the view will be transcendent.

Comments 5

 
Ken Hartke on Thursday, 20 February 2020 22:45

Writing from somewhere on my seventy-second trip around the sun, I recognize the narrowing but have experienced it a little differently. At age 65 and widowed and solo already for seven years, I packed up and moved 1000 miles; more like fled the narrowing and general frustration of small town, midwestern life. "Oh how brave you are to strike out on your own at your age" my friends and neighbors said. My vision was of me dying in that speck of a place without actually trying to escape. Waiting to be rescued is not an option.. I, too, found a muse in a place: New Mexico. But the narrowing exists. there is sort of a ridiculous voice in my head saying "pace yourself - what will you do tomorrow if you do too much today? ". I can take a day's work and spread it over three days. My big job for the day was taking two pick-up loads of yard waste to the dump. I managed to drag out the trimming, raking and piling of the stuff to a three day job so today was the grand finale. I could probably have accomplished it all in one day. But it is all fits and starts and somedays I'm a blur of activity. Then I rest up.

Writing from somewhere on my seventy-second trip around the sun, I recognize the narrowing but have experienced it a little differently. At age 65 and widowed and solo already for seven years, I packed up and moved 1000 miles; more like fled the narrowing and general frustration of small town, midwestern life. "Oh how brave you are to strike out on your own at your age" my friends and neighbors said. My vision was of me dying in that speck of a place without actually trying to escape. Waiting to be rescued is not an option.. I, too, found a muse in a place: New Mexico. But the narrowing exists. there is sort of a ridiculous voice in my head saying "pace yourself - what will you do tomorrow if you do too much today? ". I can take a day's work and spread it over three days. My big job for the day was taking two pick-up loads of yard waste to the dump. I managed to drag out the trimming, raking and piling of the stuff to a three day job so today was the grand finale. I could probably have accomplished it all in one day. But it is all fits and starts and somedays I'm a blur of activity. Then I rest up.
Stephen Evans on Friday, 21 February 2020 00:36

I am hoping for a burst of energy and courage like yours Ken. As you say - waiting to be rescued is not an option!

I am hoping for a burst of energy and courage like yours Ken. As you say - waiting to be rescued is not an option!
Rosy Cole on Saturday, 22 February 2020 17:02

When the way narrows, focus becomes sharper and dreams and distractions lose their power to seduce. Strangely, vision, empathy and insight expand.. We see the true value of the life around and within us. We glimpse attractive prospects and know there is little mileage in them, not for us, not for the journey we are committed to. And yet there is immense pleasure and gratitude and relief to have come this far, safely, when so much could have spelled utter disaster. The savouring of moments becomes precious.

Like Ken, on energetic days, I'm 'a blur of activity', but worry constantly that on any given day, I might not be able to meet responsibilities towards others, not without a punishing exhaustion and sleeplessness. Pacing oneself is key, though in the modern world this is completely swimming against the tide. But I dare say it was always the case and not only for those in the 'golden years'.

Thanks for a lovely post.

When the way narrows, focus becomes sharper and dreams and distractions lose their power to seduce. Strangely, vision, empathy and insight expand.. We see the true value of the life around and within us. We glimpse attractive prospects and know there is little mileage in them, not for us, not for the journey we are committed to. And yet there is immense pleasure and gratitude and relief to have come this far, safely, when so much could have spelled utter disaster. The savouring of moments becomes precious. Like Ken, on energetic days, I'm 'a blur of activity', but worry constantly that on any given day, I might not be able to meet responsibilities towards others, not without a punishing exhaustion and sleeplessness. Pacing oneself is key, though in the modern world this is completely swimming against the tide. But I dare say it was always the case and not only for those in the 'golden years'. Thanks for a lovely post.
Stephen Evans on Sunday, 23 February 2020 00:34

So true - and so paradoxical! - age is the ultimate lens - both telescope and microscope.

So true - and so paradoxical! - age is the ultimate lens - both telescope and microscope.
Rosy Cole on Sunday, 08 March 2020 13:32

You're right. Truth is always paradoxical. Actually, the idea of limitless choice is an illusion anyway. At any given point of life, any number of pressures and influences force a decision, with our compliance or without it. Only one path can be taken and the consequences met. The modern Holy Grail of 'me and my choices' was never viable. If only...never was.

You're right. Truth is always paradoxical. Actually, the idea of limitless choice is an illusion anyway. At any given point of life, any number of pressures and influences force a decision, with our compliance or without it. Only one path can be taken and the consequences met. The modern Holy Grail of 'me and my choices' was never viable. [i]If only.[/i]..never was.
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