There are occasions when time becomes fluid, when now becomes something bigger and stranger and harder to hold on to than the X on the calendar or the groove in the clock to which the second hand points.
This chronological fluidity shows up most often and most obviously in instances of deep wonder and deep change: here we stand on the mountaintop or beneath the immensity of the stars or inside the glory of music or within the holy silliness of sex or beside the impossible finality of the coffin and, suddenly, suddenly, we catch an almost unobscured glimpse of…
Of, well, everything.
In these moments we remember the years that brought us to this instant. And somehow, paradoxically, we remember what is yet to come – much as, in church, we remember that Jesus is going to return. This strange remembering is what the poet Sharon Bryan is getting at when she tells us that:
…it’s as if you’d reached
the top of a hill
and could see all the way
to the end of your life,
so you know without a doubt
that it has an end—
not that it will have,
but that it does have…
This remembering is why we cry at graduations and weddings and at the births of children.
This remembering is what allows is to understand that this life is glorious and fleeting gift.
Occasionally, this beautiful clarity comes in the middle of something everyday – not a hard beginning or an end, neither a lightning strike of grief nor a rush of ecstasy, but in the moment when you are putting away the groceries and, abruptly, the smell of some other, older kitchen calls to you. Suddenly you are years and miles away. Suddenly you feel again the lonely freedom of being outside of your parents’ home for the first time and cooking your own meals.
Or maybe the moment comes when you are on a bicycle early on a summer morning and, in a flash of something between joy and melancholy, it is another summer morning, years ago. You are on the red bicycle of your childhood. You and your friends are peddling towards the sea.
Or maybe the moment comes as you gaze upon a freshly taken photograph. And you see the hands that will hold the same image years or decades from now. Perhaps the hands that hold the photograph will be your own. Or perhaps the hands will belong to someone else – a grandchild, a lover, a friend. Either way, the one holding the dusty and sun-worn photograph will laugh and marvel that you were ever so young.
For an instant, this strange remembering is now. And then it’s gone. And you go back to stacking the groceries, and you keep on peddling the bicycle, and you lift the camera lens up, up towards the sky.
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