buried in the past

mother looking at old pictures

Very real, I suppose, like dreams can be real…
a dear old friend appeared to me last night
unraveled from my back pages by an experience yesterday
that pushed all the rules and proportions aside
for how long… I have no idea…
talking to my hundred and one year old mother
and this was real life; no dream …
realizing, as we spoke
that she was absolutely certain,
that I was her husband, my father…
dead these past years
don’t think it matters
that I look like him now, that I’ve grown old
in my youth I looked very much like her
there are these surprises along the way
that we never could have guessed
not that it makes much difference, it seems to me,
just how I look… though it could have helped convince her
the way in which we talked…
it was probably a lot like she talked to him…
and of course, she wanted to believe…
it was easiest on that hot afternoon
with her memory gone, and life very tenuous…
but then… in the night
talking to Zelig… he’s dead too… gone
there’s no bringing him back
but in the dream, he was smiling as he talked…
we were comparing the sensual experience
and the rational expectation of the experience itself
and when he smiled, I touched his hand for a minute…
just to assure myself that he was really there
because I think that even in the dream,
I feared that he was dead
he looked me in the eye… thinking that my touch
was an illustration of the sensual experience
and went on to say
that for the true experience of faith
one had to relinquish all support from the rational

many years ago, Zelig



51 responses to “buried in the past

  1. What emotion and such beautiful words. Thank you.

  2. Ah, how seamless and achingly tender, Shimon. Thank you for this beautiful poem. Yes, Zelig’s spirit is right, but how hard to let go of the last threads of the rational and fall, trusting, into faith. Still trying.

    Have you published your poems and illustrations or do you plan to? I would welcome such a treasure and the chance to share these with others!

    • Thank you very much, Catherine. I’m glad you appreciated the poem. Most of my writing is in Hebrew, but I did publish some stuff over 40 years ago, all out of print by now… Still, I’m very happy for those who share with me on this blog.

  3. A lovely touching poem Shimon. How painful it can be when people lost to us appear in dreams and on awakening we must lose them all over again. Thank you for sharing with us.

    • You’re so right, Chillbrook. There is that sense of loss again, when we awake… and just a moment ago we were in the presence of someone we miss. Glad you enjoyed the poem, and thank you very much for your comment.

  4. I have also had that experience, when time seems to telescope. It knocks us for a loop, but perhaps it is a tender message, that those we love never truly die. I hope so.

    • I have no doubt, Melissa, that many people continue to live in our thoughts, even after they have gone from our world. Some continue to live in the things they’ve said, the songs they’ve sung, and their works that remain a part of our world. Thank you for your comment.

  5. I personally find it a bit endearing that your mother mistook you for your father, that says how much she sees of him in you. You were kind to indulge her. A nightime conversation with a dear friend, be it dream state, or something more powerful, is a wonderful connection that can leave us thinking on it for days. This tells me you two were closely connected and remain so still. A beautifully written piece with lovely photos, Shimon!

    • Thank you very much Josie. My love for my mother is such, that I look at her mistakes… or in particular, her limitations… the way I would my own. It saddens me that she no longer has all of her faculties. But I am very happy that to this day, I am able to learn from her, and able to appreciate a conversation with her at ‘tea time’. What you say about my old friend is quite true. We were very close, in the past..

  6. A very moving piece, Shimon. I remember my mother telling me once that she was going up on an escalator at a department store and glanced up to see her mother coming down the escalator. She smiled and waved, and Grandma smiled and waved back. Then my mother realized that she was looking at her own reflection in a long mirror.

    • Wow, Naomi – that is so interesting. Imagine…

    • That is a beautiful story, that you heard from your mother. It’s so beautiful because it tells us a lot about the realities of life. I used to enjoy the thought that I was just like my mother, when I was young… but there’s no denying that I find more and more of my father in me as I’ve grown old. Thank you for your comment, Naomi.

  7. ShimonZ, this was a moving piece, indeed. Your mother does not look 101 in that picture – it must be an older picture. 101. 101 years on earth. A very very long time. Quite a milestone.

    It is wonderful you care for your mother. I feel that to be very precious, and very honourable of you.

    Shimon, I love the picture of you. It looks like the kind of photo you’d see on the back of a book by a poet, it truly does 🙂

    • Actually, the picture is quite recent. I have a picture we took together, when she was already a hundred years old, and you can see her a lot better. I’ll have to publish it one of these days. Thank you very much for your kind words, Noeleen, and I’m glad you like the picture of me too. I often miss seeing the pictures of the writers whose thoughts I read on the internet.

  8. My deceased baby daughter came to me in my dreams for many months … we spend time and would comunicate by just looking at each other … I will never forget the peace and contentment in my heart. After 7 months she said she could not come back again, but to give her love to her father (sleeping next to me) … she never did come back … and I fell into a deep depression after that … since her comforting visits were no more … this took place from Oct 86 to May 87 … I remember it like it was yesterday. Wondersome story … so is yours, my friend. PS. I love the photos …

    • That is a terrible test in life, to lose a child that you gave birth to. My heart goes out to you, and I wish that life won’t bring you other than good news in the years to come, happiness and joy. So glad you liked the post, and the picture, Cat.

  9. It’s hard to know where the border is sometimes between what is understood and what is not understood. Lovely thoughts you offered us today.

    • Thank you very much, yearstricken. I have studied all my life, and the more I’ve learned, the more I’m aware of what I don’t know… and what is beyond my ability to understand.

  10. wow, blown away by this Shimon. I got goosebumps reading your poem. Every word, every line, is artful; especially the last: “one had to relinquish all support from the rational”

    • Yes, Marina, we keep struggling to understand what’s around, and what we’re going through in this wonderful world. I’m very glad you liked the post.

  11. A rich and moving poem, Shimon. Perhaps all of time DOES exist at once—as it often appears to when one’s mind fails, or when one dreams. Very well-written!

    I always enjoy your images! If I may, let me tell you what I see: memories and love of life on your mother’s face; youth, energy, and vitality in Zelig; and in you I see boldness and challenge—perhaps a reincarnation of Hemmingway. Those are my thoughts.

    • Thank you very much for your kind words, George. I have often wondered about time and memory. It seems to me sometimes, as if I live in a completely different world than the one I knew in my youth. So much has changed (as further evidenced by our ability to converse, living in two different continents). But the more I see, the more I’m struck by wonder. Thank you so much for your comment.

  12. A very deep poem carrying your personal emotions. To me, it’s so personal that I am being extra carefully on my comment.

    • Thank you, Frank. You’re right; it is very personal. But I don’t think that you ever have to be careful with your comments to me. I often wonder, when I comment on your blog, about the warning to be respectful. It occurs to me that maybe you’ve had some bad experiences on the internet. I keep hoping that what we write will attract ‘like minds’ and that others will find no interest in what we have to say.

  13. So intimate…thank you, Shimon.

  14. I like the picture of your mother and the one of you. I had the same experiences with Dean’s mother who introduced him to me as her husband. I did not find that strange, but he did. What does it matter whether we get the details right? Chronology only matters if you have to be somewhere on schedule. Otherwise, I can think of no harm in living ones life in unconnected frames. Reality is whatever we perceive anyway, isn’t it? Sometimes, I think we need to turn loose of our fear of loss of control and just live. I enjoyed the post very much, Shimon.

    • For many years I had a mistaken idea about dementia. I thought it was a kind of stupidity, but it isn’t. It is just a loss of memory, which causes confusion. I still enjoy talking to her. She asked me once, if it would be hard for me if one day she wouldn’t recognize me. I was sure it wouldn’t. But when she recognized me as my father… there was a hard moment there. But that has passed. I agree with what you’ve said, George. Thank you for your comment.

      • I remember believing the same thing with my mother. I had previously cared for my grandfather, who had dementia, and had some idea that my mother might one day fail to recognize me. But when the day came that it actually happened, it did leave me feeling rather disquieted and disturbed. Uneasy, and sad. Especially when she would, sometimes, become fearful when she saw my face. Once I learned that the sound of my voice singing always soothed her, (even though I truly don’t much care for singing), I would always try to remember to sing whenever in her presence. It helped immensely. Both of us, actually.

        I loved the photo of your mother, and of you. It is rare to see someone comfortable enough with themselves to look directly into the camera, without flinching. There is such kindness in you, and yet, somehow, in this photo, even though you are looking directly into the lens, you are still keeping something so hidden away. I wonder what it would be like to share a whiskey with you, or to sit under a tree, and watch the clouds.

        • I think it was a little easier for me… because she was imagining that I was someone she loved, and always felt very comfortable with. But because I had many issues with my father in my youth… and because I was aware that I was getting more like him in my old age… that is what made me uncomfortable. Fortunately, three days later, when I came to visit her, she recognized me immediately. But I think she slides into this illusion from time to time. It’s something I can deal with.

          You’re right… there’s a lot of me that is on the inside, and doesn’t come out much. But I think we would feel very comfortable, sharing a whiskey around the table or sitting under a tree… I often regret that we’re too far away to meet face to face…

  15. You make it so vivid Shimon…sentimental too.Thanks for sharing.

  16. A touching poem Shimon. The first photo says so much, that small smile on her face but most of all in her eyes. Lovely.

  17. When I worked with elderly people as a social worker, I began to realize that what we call dementia is a quirky sort of mental status in which we only lose “memory” of extraneous details that connect us to each other for the purpose of standard communication. Memory is not selective. We suppress or “lose” bad memories, but we lose the good parts along with them. In old age dementia, we live in a sort of dream, a free-association state, in which the demarcation of present and past no longer exists.

    In your mother’s recollection, you were probably not born yet so you were, logically, your father. Both were significant to her. That makes sense to me. She recognized you as somebody whom she loves … either you or your father. Does it matter which? It is shocking to us because we realize, in that moment, that we cannot communicate who we are. She is in a place that is not accessible or even familiar to you. You do not share that place with her. Separation is among our worst fears. Dementia separates us.

    One day, I think we will come to view old age dementia as not being such a bad thing. It is only when dementia is worrisome to the person who suffers it that it becomes a bad thing. After all, contentment and peace are the states which we most value. If dementia allows us to relive our lives in such a state of contentment, it has to be a good thing. We can bring back the experiences and the people whom we loved.

    At 101, she has only her memories and the kindness of those around her. She is free from obligation now. Don’t we all long for such a place? One in which conventions no longer matter? One in which touch is felt and appreciated for the purity of it? One in which we are free to move easily from one place in our minds to another? I think it is only then that we are finally capable of sitting in the morning sunlight and allowing it to envelope us completely. Joy is possible in that place. I envy your mother. I know how sensitive you are. You will sit with her, hold her hand, and travel with her wherever she goes.

    • Yes, what you’ve described is very close to what I’ve found. I had a close friend, who suffered from this before he died, but he was very different, and so the symptoms were different. Even so, we were still close after he lost his memory. With my mother, we have been close friends most of her life. The part before I was born, is just a short chapter now, when you consider all her life. And I do think she sometimes blends me and my father into one personality… that as you say, she loves and feels comfortable with. And you’re right… my own personal identity or ego is not at all important. I’m glad to be her friend regardless of how she sees me. I love to make her laugh, and I enjoy sharing music and ideas with her. But it isn’t all contentment and peace, as you suggest. She misplaces things all the time, and then she feels a terrible frustration. Sometimes, she suddenly realizes that she doesn’t know what day of the week it is, or what happened yesterday, and it shocks her. But she is able to love, and she is still able to think. She loves reading, and explained to me how it works even though her memory doesn’t. It was fascinating. Joy is possible. Thank you very much, George, for your words.

  18. “for the true experience of faith
    one had to relinquish all support from the rational”

    this was beautiful, and so profound, and so quietly authentic

  19. So beautifully written… I love your poetical spirit dear Shimon… It was so touching and captured me, in my own memories too… Thank you, love, nia

  20. The brilliance of this piece lies in the fact that you are able to relate the everyday moments, captured in your photography and your writing with an almost bare simplicity which makes my heart ache. I am mesmerised by the photographs. Each one shimmers with a life of its own.

    • I am so glad that you enjoyed this piece, Sharon. I love simplicity, and try to attain it all the time. It allows us to go to the heights and depths of human experience.

  21. touching… very nice : )


  22. Amazing, heartbraking and wistfull. Would love to read your work in Hebrew. How sad it is that we lose our parents while they’re still alive, and yet you managed to treat her like mother.

    • I had a dear friend who suffered from Alzheimer’s, and I am now watching my mother suffer a general decline and the loss of her memory. During these experiences, I realized that I myself had a lot of prejudices and preconceptions about such issues, even though I’ve worked all my life to be free of prejudice. One of the things I realized, was that the essential person is still there… the personality has not changed that much. And that one can relate to that core being even if he or she suffers from loss of memory or confusion. Thank you for your comment, Rachel.

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