Where Did The Years Go?
October 01, 2023
Bintan sunrise


“There is no explaining this simple truth about life. You will forget much of it” ~ Ann Patchett

Earlier this month I marked a major milestone in my life. Before you ask, not a birthday, but an anniversary. My husband and I spent a weekend at Bintan, an island in Indonesia that is a ferry ride from Singapore, to mark the tenth anniversary of our brave decision to get married. It was the second time for both of us and our decision affected not just us, but our children as well. We moved to Singapore to start afresh as a blended family and began our bold experiment. As I look back on a decade of togetherness, I can only wonder – where did the years go?

I try to take photos these days. It is easy with a smart phone equipped with a fancy camera that does not demand much skill or attention. And cloud storage is not picky about what you store in its vast space, as long as you pay for it. Usually I turn the camera outwards, to capture what I see and not towards myself, to see what others see. Of course, my face is familiar to me, although I do wonder about its changing contours with every passing year.

The reason I take photos is to jog my memory – not because I am losing my mind but because I have become hyper aware of how time flies and memory fades, even if you are still sharp. You don’t need to be old (which is a relative term anyway) to notice the fast pace at which time slips through your fingers only to discover that memory is also fickle, leaving with you with not much to hold on to.

So I take photographs.

Of screensavers and memory joggers

The TV in our living room is a Smart TV. When I pause a show (usually a Korean drama), it goes into screensaver mode. I am not sure what setting we have but at some point it starts bringing up photos from our Google drive.These surprise reminders serve as tiny sparks to ignite the engine of the memory train that takes me to a time very different from the present, a time when I was different too, not just in looks but in my hopes and aspirations, my joys and fears, my doubts and my sorrows.

Most of the pictures show our family in it’s nascent stage – family holidays to Thailand and New Zealand, the girls posing for pictures on a rock in Australia, all of us exercising during the Covid-19 lockdowns. They capture us all dressed up for Diwali parties and graduations, sometimes with our hair tied up to combat Singapore’s humidity and other times catching us napping, unaware that a family member found our stance irresistible for a quick photo. I make the usual “aww” sounds that all parents make when seeing younger versions of their offspring. I also make the same sounds when I see my ten years younger self with fewer grey hair and a body which was at a higher level of fitness.

Do we remember everything?

I read Ann Patchett’s recent novel, Tom Lake last week, or rather listened to the audiobook ‘performed by Meryl Streep”. Given Streep’s talent and experience, through the voice of the narrator, a middle-aged mother of three young women, I could visualise all the characters in a close-knit family who gather and shelter together during the summer of the pandemic year. As the daughters pitch in to harvest cherries in their orchard, they listen to the back story of their mother’s life, who in her early twenties was briefly an actress.

Nothing dramatic happens in the story but it’s easy to see how memory works, how we selectively tell some stories while secretly hoarding others, how the young think their parents didn’t have a life before their birth and how families can function with everything that is known (and hidden) about its members.

The biggest learning was from the quote featured above – regardless of how fantastic (or boring) our life is, we tend to forget most of it.

While the first decade of our blended family has been memorable for all the changes we weathered individually and collectively as a family and as citizens of a world impacted by a global pandemic, I know there is much I have forgotten, not intentionally but as a by product of the passage of time, which erodes not just rocks in the river but also the steadfastness of our memory banks. My role as wife/mother was once the core of our family as we came together voluntarily, to consciously create connections, to forge new bonds that were not necessarily formed through shared genes.

As I see my children enter new phases of their life where I am on the periphery, I want to hold on to what I know about them in the years they were central to my life (and me to theirs, I hope). So I take photos. And write about it. To live a long life means to accept that you will forget much of it. But I still try to hold on to a few shiny pieces.

Photo: Captured recently at a sunrise in Bintan, Indonesia

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