The Pendulum swing of Life

By Diomedes | Robert O'Reilly | 22 Apr 2023




Alfred North Whitehead

I should preface this sudden change in my life by noting that my journals themselves reflect the shift. I settled down. My wildest days were over and adventures became rarer, so my old notebooks slowly took on a more sedate, even, whining character as their days were numbered and they knew it, as if they had a consciousness all their own, facing their own demise.

Life is like a pendulum swing and my autobiography exactly reflects this. There are a few pages, (a preamble) that take me up to the age of five, when consciousness and memories kick in. A few more to the age of thirteen. My high school years fill ten pages of vivid memories worth the retelling. Then it blooms, just as my mind did, with the start of university. This was my youth in its prime and such a wild one I felt compelled, with so many sentences swirling around in my richly literate brain, to record it (though that took a few years for that idea to sink in and start up).

This makes up the bulk of my story, as the pages by their numbers tell. Of my later years, I have next to nothing to say. I can condense my last twenty into ten lackluster pages, unless you want to hear the creaking of a rocking chair, or my mildly aching joints or long TV series watched.

You don’t, nor will I list the many names of the faceless jobs I’ve worked all across Canada. I did have some grand thoughts and another two novels to write along with new journals. But the last twenty years of my life don’t belong here. This is a record of the trials and changes I went through that shaped and defined my character. In the last two decades there were none. My character and mind were indelibly stamped.

After Sanita, my life was happier, more regular and saner, less eventful, which doesn’t foster exciting records. There has to be a grain of sand in the shell, an irritation, for the pearl to form and I had few now, with a girlfriend I was in love with and who loved me back. My journals don’t decline in volume for a few years, they gravitate once again to recording my studies and readings, my conversations and reflections over the next three years.

When I moved with her and my son to Dallas in 1989 (and quit speed) they stop. We moved to St. Croix nine months later and I resumed the electrical trade full time, with no records (too tired after work). Then we moved to Seattle for a year where I wrote my first novel ‘The Whitening’, preempting any journal notes. We moved to Puerto Rico for the next six years and I have some fifty, stray sheets of notes and reflections on my life then, not in any consecutive notebook but on scribbled, torn out scraps of paper, perfectly matching those turbulent years.

With my return to Niagara Falls in 1999, my union work, my gaining custody of my son, buying a house and creating a stable, father-son household (after so many moves) and after thirteen years of this working, regular existence, I took up daily journal writing again on weekends and my time off and this is it, the re-write of those former journals.

After sixty pages of random notes and stray thoughts on daily life I fell into the composition of my autobiography and quickly realized (with how much I enjoyed it) that this was my next rewarding project. I had twenty long notebooks from thirty years earlier filled with so many colorful descriptions and thoughts (the unfolding history of my life) lined up on a shelf behind me, that they were begging for notice. Some of their content (most of it) was juvenile and redundant. But a good part was dear to me, gems of thoughts and vivid records of my youth.

For years I wondered what to do with them and now I had a venue, a format, to extract the gems in an organized form. This autobiography answered the question, in more ways than one. I live my life over again. Not only is it a joy to review those youthful years but a fond acknowledgement to all the characters that filled it, a final ‘thank you’ to those I lived with and loved and learned from. This is the best desert you gain from all the efforts you paid in keeping a journal. You have it to re-read it again, decades later, at a much changed and wiser age, with all the pleasure of the amplified memories of youth.

But back to my pendulum analogy. At the beginning, after five or so, it picks up speed and breadth. When full consciousness is achieved in your teenager years it swings more broadly (probably like your heart rate) with all the new experiences and friendships and the discovery of the opposite sex. Then the wild twenties and active thirties. As the years go by that swing lessens, by a natural entropy, with age and settled, daily habits. It slows even more (just as our bodies do), into old age, with the vital force in all our organs and muscles fading, until it barely swings at all and then stops. But not the mind. That never stops developing and improving, as my writing this at the age of sixty-eight demonstrates, still full of juice and concision.

Sophocles wrote one of his finest plays near the age of ninety (Oedipus at Colonus). He buried Euripides, ten years younger in 407 B.C. who wrote his finest play (The Bacchae) near the age of eighty. But let’s go further. Isocrates was one of the greatest orators in ancient Greece, lived to ninety-eight years of age and wrote his most famous speech, the ‘Panegyricus’ just before he died. Shakespeare, though he died young compared to these Greeks, (aged fifty-one) still wrote his best two plays, ‘The Tempest’ and ‘King Lear’ at the end of his life. I have other, innumerable examples, which I won’t bore you with. But the bottom line is that the mind, well nourished, never grows old. Read the ‘Dialogues’ of ‘Alfred North Whitehead’, or watch brief clips of Bernard Shaw recorded in his eighties, or Buckminster Fuller, and tell me that an old man can’t think. They could think more clearly and comprehensively than anyone on Earth till their hearts stopped.

Back to December 24th, 1985. Even though my journal came to a complete halt, I remember vividly the events of the next week because I replayed them so many times in my mind, like a movie, and told the story to various friends over the years, because it was so strange. Then, to add to this stimulus, I have pictures. Sanita had a camera and loved to snap shots, which she did, frequently.

Between the ages of six and twenty-three I have perhaps three pictures of myself. I have my passport picture taken just the week before I quit Toronto and left on my first hitch-hiking ramble to California. But for all the years that fill the bulk of this narrative, from twenty-three to thirty-one, I have none.

Pictures do capture a great deal and I deeply regret the ‘lacunae’ and negligence on my part. But with Sanita, the pictures came along, with so much more. I’ll include them in this account, for all the color they add. They are the first photographs I have of my life as an adult, bright memories that require few words to complete.

To highlight the importance of photographs in anyone’s life, (anyone who cherishes memories), one of the most heart-wrenching scenes in any film I’ve ever viewed is the brief glimpse of ‘Ma’ in ‘The Grapes of Wrath’ sitting alone in the dim light of their shack and burning, one by one, the few pictures and postcards of her youth, before they set out the next day on their long journey to California. It’s as if she’s putting that youth, that life, to death, with only old age and hardships ahead. I don’t know why she burned such tiny, portable relics, unless to prepare and brace her mind for the trials ahead by leaving all past behind. But it’s a sad, partial death, which makes one want to scream out, as Dylan Thomas did:

“Do not go gentle into that good night…Rage, rage against the dying of the light”.

This autobiography is my ‘rage’ against just such a death.

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B.A. in Latin and Greek from U.C. Berkley. Writer, Blogger and retired Electrician.

Robert O'Reilly
Robert O'Reilly

I am educated in the Western Classical Tradition, B.A. from U.C. Berkeley in Latin and Greek, English major, one year at U. of Toronto, studied under Alain Renoir and Northrop Frye, read most classics full time for many years after university in French, English, Latin and Greek to the modern day. I am interested in the near future of technology, what changes it imposes upon our heritage and character as humans. Short stories and Essays are my medium.

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