Last night I went outside for a bit to watch nature’s fireworks — the immense show of lightning that so often shows up on July fourth in Colorado. Standing there in the unearthly light, I was reminded of another time I watched the show. It was decades ago. I stood on the roof of the apartment building in Denver where I lived, and watched the far-off jagged lines of light.
It seems odd to think of that young woman and all she hadn’t yet experienced. All that she couldn’t even have imagined that would eventually happen to her. I think it was right before I met Jeff, so he wasn’t even in the picture. Our life together, our great cosmic connection, was on the horizon, but she hadn’t an inkling.
In fact, she didn’t think she’d be alive much longer. When she was young, she could project herself into the future, but that future always ended when she was twenty-five. No matter how she tried, she could never imagine her life after that. She thought it meant she would die that year, but instead, it meant she would come alive because that was the year she met Jeff. It makes sense to me now, that lack of any sense of the future, because how could she have projected herself into a future she couldn’t ever have imagined?
She couldn’t have imagined any of her life with Jeff. She couldn’t have imagined — though she dreamed — that she would learn to write and would become a published author. She couldn’t imagine how much something called a blog would mean to her (back then, there wasn’t even a hint of such a personal use for the computers that were just coming into renown).
She couldn’t have imagined Jeff’s death and the grief that would all but destroy her before it rebuilt her. She couldn’t have imagined that anything would ever get her to take care of her father when he got old — it was the one thing she was determined she would never do. (Even at a young age, I knew I was the “designated daughter,” and Jeff saved me from that. For a while, anyway. But fate came calling.) She couldn’t have imagined living in California and especially not in the desert — she never liked California, and she hated the heat. And she could never have imagined finding peace and hope in the desert, or taking dance classes, or making so many friends. She never imagined that two of her brothers and both parents would die. (Though logically, she knew her parents would die at some point, but they were still in their middle years and a long way from the end, so she never thought about it.)
She could never have imagined traveling by herself, camping by herself, hiking and backpacking by herself. She could never even imagine having the self-confidence and courage and boldness such adventures would demand.
And especially, she could never have imagined owning a house.
All that was in her future, and it seems so strange that the young woman standing on the roof watching the lightning storm hadn’t even a glimmer that any of those momentous things would occur.
And yet, there I was last night, on the other end of that life, looking at what seemed the same storm, and knowing all that the young woman would experience.
Suddenly, the sounds of a war zone brought that reverie to an end. I had never lived anyplace where fireworks were legal, and oh, my — hours and hours of the sound of gunfire all around me. At one point, I looked out the back door because it seemed to me as if the sounds were coming from my yard, and I was shocked to see huge falls of sparks landing on my garage and house from the fireworks nearby neighbors had set off. Luckily, the long dry months had come to an end a couple of hours earlier, so there was no danger, but it still made me nervous.
Today, although all is sodden, it’s quiet. The war is over. The lightning that brought the flash of memory has receded into the past.
Or into the future.
Next year, or the year after, or ten years from now, perhaps I will again watch nature’s fireworks on the fourth, and I will be marveling at happenings I can’t imagine today.
Pat Bertram is the author of Grief: The Inside Story – A Guide to Surviving the Loss of a Loved One. “Grief: The Inside Story is perfect and that is not hyperbole! It is exactly what folk who are grieving need to read.” –Leesa Healy, RN, GDAS GDAT, Emotional/Mental Health Therapist & Educator