I know. I know. Most of you are probably thinking that because we are a month into summer, Sylvia and Erma are preparing to rant about swimwear, body image expectations, and disappointments in both. Nope. Not at all. While Erma has accepted that the hourglass form she once coveted has erupted into collagenless dunes, so much so that she avoids the mirror for anything other than lipstick application, Sylvia is only mildly disappointed in her glow this year. Though a little less than satisfied with the topography that this past year has mapped onto her flesh given the angst and havoc being wreaked globally (let alone her corner of the world), Sylvia is not sizing herself up like that. At all. She’s measuring life in memories and moments– not inches or centimeters. Sylvia finds herself missing little things, simple tidbits that she thought would be a part of her life but that she hasn’t experienced at all yet. She also laments huge unfathomable and immeasurable losses this year. A tape measure, a scale, a barometer? No, none of those will suffice, even superficially.
Erma: How can you miss something you’ve never known, Sylvia? Why do you torture yourself with wanting the unknown? Remember, the grass isn’t always greener.
Sylvia: Don’t you know by now that I can’t give up. I won’t give up. It’s not a matter of the grass being greener. It’s not even that I want morsels of life that are out-of-reach. What I’m missing are pieces of life that I eagerly anticipated, those which I thought I’d have to look back on by now. I don’t miss memories of times or places I have visited. I miss those memories that I thought I would have made by now- that I should have made by now.
Erma: See, that’s the problem. You set a schedule, a timeline for your happiness-years ago- never factoring in life changes.
Sylvia: That’s just plain silly. Of course, I anticipated changes. I knew I’d graduate. I knew I’d work. I knew I’d become a mother and a wife and a million other things. I factored change into the life equation as a variable.
Erma: Ah, there it is. That was the mistake. Well, maybe not a mistake but surely a misguided assumption. Change isn’t a variable at all. Change is a constant. Everything else is a variable!
Sylvia: Working. Motherhood. Marriage. Relationships. They have consistently made up my days. They most certainly have felt like constants- cores of my being.
Erma: I fear you’ve really missed out on how to assess your decades or even if those years need to be examined, quantified, and qualified, my friend. I never thought you quite so naïve.
Sylvia: I don’t think it is naivete at all. I simply never factored in death – the demise of relationships and final goodbyes of those I loved deepest. I say “simply” but it’s anything and everything but simple.
Those moments and memories that Sylvia feels she’s missed out on? They are not inconsequential, but what she has learned and continues to navigate is they aren’t everything. She has made choices, set priorities, and picked her figs from the tree as they have been dangled or dropped before her. Perhaps what Sylvia feels she has missed in life is not lacking at all. She has time, not to regret or reshape memories but to make more. She is finally realizing that life is not one tree with many branches; life comprises many trees from many different orchards.
Erma: Stop trying to measure. Inches. Centimeters. Pounds. Barrels. Bushels. Baskets. So many ways to quantify everything. And I’d rather believe that life is not made to be measured at all, not by what we have or what we don’t have. Life is meant to be savored- in totality- after all or most of the fruit has fallen or been picked from the tree. You’ve eaten the plump and juicy, tasted the bruised and rotten parts, and made a whole lot of juice.
Stop measuring. Squeeze out the juice. Press on.
I saw my life branching out before me like the green fig tree in the story. From the tip of every branch, like a fat purple fig, a wonderful future beckoned and winked. One fig was a husband and a happy home and children, and another fig was a famous poet and another fig was a brilliant professor, and another fig was Ee Gee, the amazing editor, and another fig was Europe and Africa and South America, and another fig was Constantin and Socrates and Attila and a pack of other lovers with queer names and offbeat professions, and another fig was an Olympic lady crew champion, and beyond and above these figs were many more figs I couldn’t quite make out. I saw myself sitting in the crotch of this fig tree, starving to death, just because I couldn’t make up my mind which of the figs I would choose. I wanted each and every one of them, but choosing one meant losing all the rest, and, as I sat there, unable to decide, the figs began to wrinkle and go black, and, one by one, they plopped to the ground at my feet.
~Sylvia Plath, The Bell Jar