Thursday, June 01, 2006

On Time

Note: This isn't, in fact, a posting about "being on time". This is, instead, a posting On Time, about Being.

The Future: Driving on a highway recently, I came upon a car crash that had apparently just occurred on the other side of the divider. Paramedics hadn't yet arrived, one car was still sitting in its tracks spitting smoke, and there was only a short lull in the flow of cars on my side. But as I slowed down dutifully alongside the crash to pay my rubbernecking respects, then sped off into the distance, I had a strange sensation. I had just seen into the future. For a good mile behind the accident, the southbound highway was a parking lot, cars strung end to end like an automotive necklace, packed tightly onto a long chain of asphalt. I wondered if these drivers wondered what had happened. I was tempted to open the window and shout "car crash!" to them as I passed, so they would know what to expect. Then, several minutes further down the road, the bumper to bumper gradually thinned out, and soon traffic was zooming along just as efficiently on their side as mine. That's when I really got a pang of schadenfreude, chase quickly by a pang of guilt. Boy, if they only knew what they were in for, I thought to myself. I imagined the driver of that white mazdat talking on his cell as he whooshed past me: sure honey, I'll be home in 20 minutes, the parkway's clear as a bell, no traffic in sight... little did he know that in just about 83 seconds he was going to go from 60 to 0. I felt a bit like Merlin. Except without the cool wizard's hat. and wand. and beard.

The Present: I think about death more than someone in their hopeful, virile twenties should. What if today was the last day? But this still has people all caught up in thinking about what they would have done in the future, or what they should forgive or forget from the past. Our lives are still in the way. But now on the newborn ICU. Biking up the hill at sunset, seeing night descend on the modern village of New Haven. Thinking that somewhere around, a person probably took their last breath today. But someone also took their first breath. What if it was both? There are babies who don't make it to day 2 of life. They only live one day. What if today was your only day to live? No past, no future. Just today. No expectations for what things should be like, what they used to be like, what they could be like if they were different. Just this moment, and whatever this moment would bring.

The Past: Last weekend, at a hippie coffee shop in PA with my mom and her friends, I had a craving for apple strudel. Given that there was a woven basket full of saran wrapped pieces of homemade apple strudel at the counter of this hippie coffee shop, it is most likely that my craving was contextually, and not neurologically, induced. Nevertheless, I chose to say yes to the craving (because it's not everyday that one gets the pleasure of an apple strudel craving, let alone the even greater pleasure of the apple strudel itself--can you tell I love saying 'apple strudel'?). I found the others sitting around one of the coffee tables (why aren't there more conventional coffee tables in coffee shops? or more coffee table books? hmm), so I joined them and proceeded to carefully unwrap my strudel. Of course, as I did this I was struck with the memory of the first (and only) time I made apple strudel by hand, a great many years ago, at home on my kitchen table. So of course, I began to tell the group about it. All I remembered was rolling out the dough so thin it filled the entire table and nearly hung over the sides. So as I was retelling this anecdote to my little audience, I said just that, and then I said, and the funniest part was that the cats came over and started batting at the dough hanging off the sides of the table, as if it was a little animal. I knew this would get a laugh from the crowd, and it did...but I also knew, as soon as I thought of this detail, that it hadn't actually happened. At least, I don't actually remember it happening, though I suppose it might have if I have some memory for it. Point being, I just altered my memory of the past, but seemed to improve it instead of degrading it. I guess you could say I upgraded my memory to a more storytellable format.


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