“On January 1, 1974, I wrote my first journal entry in an actual journal.” This comment by Jocelyn Cooley in Sojourns (winter/spring 2009), leaped off the page, rousing my own memory of that first day of 1974. That was the day I was late for my own wedding. Each of us is connected to time and to history in such unique and amazing ways. For Cooley, this specific date marks a turning point in her budding writing career. For me the date is indelibly marked by a mixture of embarrassment at being late, a shiver of cold at the memory of a -30° F temperature that froze the car in its tracks, and the reality of long gas lines that rendered car travel more precious than anyone of my generation had ever imagined.
What else was happening on that day? John Nessel was putting the finishing touches on his All American college football career at the Orange Bowl. President Nixon was gnashing his teeth over the gall of the American press. A nearly 26-year old Mikhail Baryshnikov was chomping at his artistic bit in the Kirov Ballet. A small child with a distended belly crouched among thousands of starving Ethiopians inching closer toward death. Someone was born that day. Someone broke an arm that day. Someone’s out-of-control car slid into another car on an icy highway that day. Someone endured chemotherapy and nausea that day.
We live lives of infinite variety. Today someone shivers in London while simultaneously someone else photographs a riot of exotic blossoms in Australia. An astronaut circumnavigates our planet, watching as day turns to night and storms swirl between us. Each day is precious to each one of us in some unique way. Too often we trudge through days filled with the mundane bits and pieces of life and overlook the fact that we won’t get a second chance at this day. For those whose days are numbered, the value of a day takes on gargantuan proportions. The prudent among us try not to wait until our days are numbered to cherish each moment, to place each disappointment into the larger context of life, and to see the miraculous events that unfold before our benumbed eyes.
What were you doing on January 1, 1974?
What are you doing today?
How do you see yourself? You look in the mirror and you see the familiar face that’s stared back at you for years. Maybe you agonize over your narrow eyes, or an uneven complexion, or a nose that turns up at the end or humps in the middle, ears that poke out of the veil of wispy hair. Whatever you see, I can guarantee that it’s different from what everyone else sees when they look at you.
By now, I should be resigned to the image that stars back at me. I’m old enough to realize that we all suffer the same crazy self-criticisms. But don’t put me in front of a mirror beside another person. My critical brain can’t resist the urge to compare and I come out the loser every time.
I remember the agony of junior high PE classes. We were required to strip down and shower, under the watchful gaze of the PE teacher—a dreadfully humiliating experience to begin with and one which would not be tolerated today. After the showers came the dressing and primping. Girls lined up elbow to elbow under long banks of fluorescent lights glaring over long banks of mirrors to do their hair and makeup. I was so mortified by the stark reality of my image beside those of the other girls that I learned to do my hair by feel. One day, acting on a midnight brainstorm, I waited until the girl I thought of as the ugliest girl in class was standing by herself in front of the mirror. I crept up to the right of her, expecting to look bearable by comparison. What I saw staring back at me was even uglier than the ugly girl. I gave up after that, resolving to simply not look in the mirror unless I was completely alone.
I also remember going to the department store cosmetics counter, prepared to pay for a stranger to transform this duck into a swan. I emerged as a goose, with an empty pocketbook. To this day I fall prey to the niggling hope that a newly purchased shade of eye shadow or lipstick will enhance reality. But reality is in my head and neither makeup nor elegant hair styles will transform what’s in there.
Lately, I’ve noticed a most intriguing phenomenon about self-image, one which I share with a growing number of people. My self-image has lost track of my age. This becomes obvious when I try to age strangers, something I used to do quite accurately. We tend to use our own age as a benchmark in estimating other people’s age. A person is either about the same age or is younger or older by decades. This evaluation gains accuracy as we learn to listen for the contextual details that divulge time clues during conversations. We glean subtle clues about when a person graduated from high school or what political events shaped a person’s life.
It’s the old self-image playing tricks again. I do see the wrinkles in the mirror, but I don’t feel the wrinkles in my head or in my body. I feel like I should look the same as that young pipsqueak. Reality really bites when I come to a doorway at the same time as one of my elders. I pause for my elder to step through first; the pause stagnates as the “elder” pauses, waiting for me to pass through first. “Duh, I’m the elder!” The awkward recognition hits me like a ton of bricks every time.
The month of August is nearly half past already! What happened to summer? We all say this. But really, what is going on with time? Remember when it used to take for-absolutely-ever to get from one Christmas to the next? To get from one summer to the next? The summers always passed quickly—compared to the loooong school year. But, back then summers zoomed at the speed of sound, while now, I swear they fly by at the speed of light.
I really thought that time would ease up during retirement. I had visions of sitting on the porch with a cup of Joe and a book, watching the world go by. That sounds slow and relaxed. That sounds darn right boring, truth be told. I have yet to spend enough time sitting on the porch watching the world go by for it to become boring. I’m still craving the down time that implies.
There are still not enough hours in the day—even during the long days of summer. There are too many mountains to climb, too many books and magazines to read, too many sentences to be developed, too many words to cut, too many photos to struggle with, too many notes not yet played, too many luncheons and walks with friends left unscheduled, too little time for peering inside the hollow cavern of my skull to see if there’s anything valuable in there.
Dang it, does anyone have a day-stretcher?