Time passes. We say it moves like a river, and that's not bad, as metaphors go. It calls to mind time's ceaseless flow, and the way it's impossible to separate the parts from the whole, and how one spot is always changing as more time passes by.
Every moment that passes is a smaller fraction of your life. An hour today passes the way a minute did when you were a child. You gather up time like weightless stones in a sack, never able to stop. But memory's also an emotional thing, and our sense of time's passage is as much about how we want to remember ourselves and the narrative we make of our lives as it is about the brain functions that change our perspective on the seconds as we age.
We move laterally through our memories as we age, not back and forth. What happened yesterday feels the same as something that happened 20 years ago because we carry those things with us. They make us who we are and tell us who to become.
I'm writing these words at my desk, but I'm also walking through an airport, about to see the woman who will become my wife. And I am standing there with her, and I know something has changed forever.
And I am sitting in a tiny church classroom and crying, crying in front of a girl, crying like I have rarely cried in my life, crying because for the first time in a year I am starting to understand the magnitude of burying someone younger than you, and it is being pulled from me on hooks that I cannot stand to see go, and she and I will never be anything close to romantic for each other, but I will love her forever for the way she puts her hand on my arm and doesn't laugh.
And I am driving with my friends, our arms out windows, and we are kings and queens of a low warm spring, and we do not think we are invincible, but rather that our bonds will make us that way.
And I am asking a girl to the prom, the only time I bring myself to ask out a girl in high school, and she is saying yes, and she is writing her number on the palm of my hand, and years after I have forgotten her name or what her voice sounds like I will remember this feeling, of her hand holding mine while she carves the palm with purple ink.
And I am sitting at the kitchen table with my family, laughing, and I know that my parents will never change, never leave, never waver, and I know these things below any recognition of the knowing.
And I am sitting on my father's lap, gently steering the wheel while he works the pedals, moving through an empty parking lot, sure that no one else has ever had this much power.
And I am toddling through the snow, stubby three-year-old legs beneath me, when I stumble and fall backward, and I am unable to right myself, and I know that someone must have picked me up and helped me, but before that there's nothing.
And I am memories of stories I heard so many times I might as well have lived them, and the sum of so many hopes and fears, and the product of so much love and forgiveness. And I am still a child, and I am still a man, and I forget and learn again every day that holding all these things in at once is the only way to feel complete, and that everyone around me, every single one of them, is just like this.
"Memory is not strictly mortal in its nature, either. It is a strange thing, after all, to be able to return to a moment, when it can hardly be said to have any reality at all, even in its passing. ...
A moment is such a slight thing, I mean, that its abiding is a most gracious reprieve."
— Marilynne Robinson, Gilead