When the Ugly Duckling is Just a Duck

A couple of women in dance class today were talking about aging and how it was an adjustment when they no longer turned heads. Not a problem, they said. Just an adjustment.

SThese women are still lovely, and I can imagine they were real head-turners when they were young, but not everyone has that same experience. For some of us, the adjustment was not learning we no longer turned heads, but accepting the knowledge that we would never would turn heads.

The lure of the ugly duckling story looms large in girlhood. I suppose even the pretty girls long to be a swan, unable to see until — perhaps it was too late — that they’d been swans all along. (In the case of the two women in class today, they might in fact have been swans of the Swan Lake sort since both had studied ballet for many years.)

I’m long past the moment when I realized this ugly duckling would never be a swan, long past the days I wondered what it would feel like to be a head turner. There is something to be said (though I’m not sure what, hence this short post) for being an ugly duckling that grows up to be merely a duck. There is beauty in that, too.

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(Pat Bertram is the author of the suspense novels Light Bringer, More Deaths Than One, A Spark of Heavenly Fire, and Daughter Am I. Bertram is also the author of Grief: The Great Yearning, “an exquisite book, wrenching to read, and at the same time full of profound truths.”)

Grief and the Empty Timeline of Death

Route 66My life mate/soul mate died 33 months ago. He was 63 at the time, a few months shy of his 64th birthday. Today, his mother called and during the conversation she mentioned that he would now be 66. This revelation stopped me in my mental tracks. 66?

During all these months, not once have I ever stopped to calculate what his age would have been had he lived. It felt as if time stopped when he died — not all time, just his time. And yet, his time continues. The timeline that began with his birth is still going on. When she mentioned his age, I got the mental image of a shadow of his ghost continuing to ride that timeline. Not him, not his spirit (because if he does still exist somewhere, he is outside of time) but simply the shadow of what might have been.

Normally such a thought would have swept me back into grief, but this image (at least for now) has me befuddled.

I’ve been thinking of him as 63 years old. As such, he is still older than I am, but I’ve been wondering how I will feel when I get to the age he was when he died, or later, when I grow older than he ever did. Will I feel foolish as a raddled 86-year-old, still yearning for such youthful-looking man? (The only photo I have of him was taken when he was not yet 50. And as my memories fade, that will be the only image I remember him by.)

And yet, there is his continuing timeline. What is growing older? Well, me, of course. I am aware that I will continue to age, but he will be forever a relatively young 63. Yet something — some shadow of him or his life — continues to grow older.

Or is his just an empty timeline now?

I spent most of last night learning how to use Microsoft Movie Maker and putting together a video blurb of Grief: The Great Yearning. The music piece was supposed to be thirty seconds, and it was, but there were also seven blank seconds on the end of the music clip, so that when the video finished playing, the timeline continued blankly for another seven seconds.

Perhaps it’s the coincidence of the two blank timelines that unsettles me, but I truly do not know how to grasp the concept of his empty timeline. He can’t continue to age, and yet his birthdays will come, year after year.

The emptiness of it all makes me want to weep; yet strangely, I am dry-eyed.

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Pat Bertram is the author of the suspense novels Light Bringer, More Deaths Than One, A Spark of Heavenly Fire, and Daughter Am I. Bertram is also the author of Grief: The Great Yearning, “an exquisite book, wrenching to read, and at the same time full of profound truths.” Connect with Pat on Google+