“Time, which changes people, does not alter the image we have retained of them.” ~Marcel Proust
I looked at her today as if for the first time. She’s wearing the shirt I bought for her the summer before last. When I bought it she was swimming in it, even though it was a child’s small. It fit her like a dress back then. But when I looked at her today the shirt fit like a shirt should, and I have no idea when she grew. She’s changing. My littlest girl is not so little anymore.
I’m 37 years old, and sometimes I feel the same way about time, how it moves on relentlessly and changes things, and changes people. I have these shirts in my closet from five years ago, some from ten years ago, and they show the wear and tear of the years. Some of their collars are worn through in places, and I have to get rid of them. Others are just faded from so many washings, but they’re reminders of another time, of another place, and of the me I used to be. But I’ve changed because people change.
It’s like that phenomenon that happens when you’ve grown up with people, and then grown apart. For me it was moving away, and those people I left became frozen in my mind. They’re still 10, and 12, and 16, and they never grew up in my mind. And even though I look in the mirror every day and see this proliferation of gray hair taking over, and though I know I’m 37 years old, they stay exactly the same in my mind.
Then one of them died two years ago, and I was forced to accept that he wasn’t still 15 years old, that he was a grown man but still way too young to have been taken out of this world. Death will force you to see things in a stark clarity that nothing else can challenge. Another one of them passed away a few months later after giving birth, and it challenged me even more to understand, to grieve not for the 8-year old that I remember, but for the woman she became, and for the wonderful mother she never really got to be. The contrast is incredible not only in my mind but also in my heart.
People change. They grow in ways both external and internal, and we don’t see the half of it. What we see are the people we knew, whether it was 10 years, 15 years, or 20 years ago, and we mourn them when they leave us, but we don’t appreciate them for who they’ve become. Lately I’ve been re-forging many of those old connections, finding out what became of those youngsters, how they changed, before it’s too late.
I’m a firm believer in embracing the person I’ve become, even if at times I don’t like that person, because only in embracing that person do I see those parts for what they are, and only then can I change them. Part of that is reconciling who I am now with who I used to be, and from talking to those I used to know I paint a clearer picture in my mind of who I was, and how I’ve changed. But I have to keep reminding myself that we are not the same, that we can’t go back to that place, to that moment in time, except in memories.
And those never change.