Reading yesterday the book, View from 80 by the late poet Malcolm Cowley, he mentioned the common perception that years fly by more quickly the older you get, and that from age 79 to 80 passes like a week for a child. There would seem to be a combination of double perceptions at work here, since time for a child (at least for me when I was a child) often seemed elongated and possibly endless. "How long is five hours?" I remember asking my mom.
We were visiting my great-grandparents who were very old (at the time they were in their late 70s). Their house smelled of powder and yellowing paper, and old wood furniture that has been overused. I recall distinctly pondering the blue veins that were prominent in their hands, the dark splotches covering their knuckles. They both lived into their nineties pretty much self-sufficiently. I was bored. They talked, motivated by my dad's questions, about how they met near the turn of the previous century, how he worked on the train, how they lost control of a Model T. Their voices were brittle. My heart felt pressed. I wanted out, to go and watch television, to be in the fresh sun, to eat junk food and drink Coca Cola.
"How long are we going to be here?" I asked my mom.
"A while," she said.
"How long is that?"
She likely guessed, but I took it as prophecy, "five hours."
The hours stretched, and seemed long, like hours you might experience at work. I found a dead bird in the front yard, and somehow associated this with impatient waiting. "Don't touch it," I was told, "you might get sick." And so for years I imagined that the bodies of birds somehow carried some sort of toxic poison that could infect you by touching them. I wasn't a particularly bright child. So intermingled in my subconscious is the short flight of a dead bird, the toxicity of passing time, the boredom of age and of impatience.
So now I wait as well. On the horizon I have a meeting that I am waiting for that tends to trump other things. In November, Shannon will be here. I anticipate this the way I used to wait for Christmas, but have greater hope than I ever had for the things I might unwrap.
The days also sometimes seem to shuffle sideways when you are trying to make ends meet, as the common parlance has it. I am trying to write more, force myself to write even amid all that I lack and all that I have (such as numerous vain worries).
I work, I come home, rest. Write. Go to church, pray. Play with my kids. It is all moving along forward towards some indistinct culmination, something maybe tinged with hope, other than certain age or death, an expectation. Maybe this is the impulse behind authentic ambition.