A Finger Snap in Time
I’d normally write some sort of introspective piece about my impending birthday. And this is no different.
I’m not where I expected to be in life. I don’t think most of us are where we’d like to be; either emotionally, physically, or geographically. I don’t ascribe to clichés about “life dealing us a hand.” Instead, I feel that life is half of what you do, and half of what it does to you. There are choices that we make, and consequences that follow. Not all of us had the same opportunities in life, and so we don’t all wind up where we’d expected to be. But that doesn’t mean that one has to stay where they are.
I’ve found that since turning thirty I’ve had a minor collection of, “Oh my God, I’m an adult,” moments. I’ve also had a few “Now I feel old” moments as well. These are few in number, but never fail to scare the hell out of me. Examples include: explaining a floppy disc to someone younger than me, and hearing Pearl Jam’s Jeremy over the P.A. at K-Mart.
I don’t mind growing old (it beats the alternative) but I must also keep in mind that I’m not exactly old (except by medieval standards). I’m turning thirty-five in a matter of hours. That’s still very young to me. I pictured thirty-five as being “middle-aged” when I was in my twenties. And most of my peers in high school saw it as “nearing the end of one’s life.” I guess that means most of them didn’t expect to see thirty. I’ve realized since then that age is a relative state of mind. However, the one thing that shocks me is the passage of time.
I had a very interesting conversation during my most recent visit to San Francisco. I found a place called We Say Tomato, a British-themed grocery store. You can find jelly babies, Yorkshire tea, and Tayto crisps on the shelves there. But the centerpiece of the place is the vintage Dr.Who pinball machine. It dates back to the Sylvester McCoy era, and is one of the best pinball tables I’ve ever had the pleasure of playing. But to trump this nostalgia/fandom moment was the conversation I had after playing.
The owner of the shop was a British immigrant. He’d moved here about fifteen years ago. And like most conversations I have the topics were broad in scope. We talked about healthcare, aging, the expense of education, and the passage of time.
One of the things he said to me was, “I tell my daughter, ’Go outside on your birthday, look at the moon, and then snap your fingers.’”
He made a sharp snap of the fingers, and then said, “You do that this year, and then the next year, and the year after that. You’ll find that the time between snaps is less and less each year. You’ll say to yourself, ’Didn’t I just do this a few months ago?’”
He looked a bit like Eric Idle, and sounded like him too, so I’ll follow his advice. This year, and next year, I will snap my fingers while looking at the moon (if it’s visible). If the moon is not visible, I’ll just rig something with a light bulb, a glow in the dark tennis ball, or a photo of the moon. I’m curious to see if this works, so I’ll try anything to make it happen.
The ersatz Idle is the first person to mention this ritual to me. But this isn’t the first time I’ve talked of the subject. My therapist and I often talk about how quickly time moves as you age. It’s a long-running conversation that scares me. I don’t want to close my eyes at age thirty-five, and then open them to see an old man in the mirror. Or, as Dave Bowman experienced in the film 2001; he sees the old man version of himself on his deathbed. When I look back on times in my past when I did have suicidal ideation, I think, “People die so quickly, why rush things?” I decided a few years ago that I’d take my time in getting to the great beyond. You miss out on things if you punch your ticket too soon.
It’s not been an easy road, these past thirty-five years. There are times when I do feel like I’ve failed, and that success has passed me. I would look at younger classmates, and sort of envy them their youth--no, I’d envy them their time. They have the advantage of a few more years to mess around before they have to “grow up.” I then console myself with the thought that, “I have something they don’t have--experience. I know things that they don’t know because I’ve been through the combat zone of life.” I’ve seen things they’ve only read about.
To paraphrase Rutgar Hauer as Roy Batty in Blade Runner, “I’ve seen things you wouldn’t believe. I’ve seen dust devils in Utah. I’ve seen a redheaded angel playing violin. I’ve seen people chained to the ceiling, and loving it. I’ve seen a baby with eyes like the sky. And when I’m gone…it’ll be forgotten…like when you wake up from a hangover and find someone in bed next to you. Sure, it seemed like a good idea when you were drunk. But you just know that whoever it is won’t as attractive as your pickled consciousness told you they were.”
Except the things I’ve seen won’t be forgotten. I have this compulsion to either write about them, or talk about them. And so no one will forget them, even after I’m gone. That gives me some comfort. I know that in the blink of an eye the next thirty-five years will pass quickly. And I know that when I’m in my seventies, I will have more stories to tell.
There are times though when I wish I could take a time machine back, and fix certain things about my life. That being said, if I did not make the choices I did, I might not have met any of my friends. In fact, I don’t think I’d be alive today. I wouldn’t have seen the dysfunction that I’d come from. Instead, I would just assume it was “normal” to go on living with anger and resentment toward my own existence. It’s taken a lot of work to cast off the influences I was raised with as a child. It’s taken even longer to replace those influences with a different way of seeing things. In the course of this process I have realized a few things.
The first is that time always goes on. You may have a limited time on Earth, but there will always be another day after this one ends. Even if I’m bored to tears at work, I know that it’ll end eventually, and that I’ll be able to go home.
The second thing I’ve learned is this…You can’t list the things that you’ve learned, because you learn them by doing, and not by notation. Everyone’s experience will be different, and so any advice I give would be specific to my own experience. That being said, you may take or leave what I’ve said in the above paragraphs.
And so…while I lament the loss of time, and the passing away of certain things and people, I do not envy the past. I feel that while one may reflect on childhood interests, one may not dwell on them for too long. You don’t have to “give up childish things,” but one must also progress and grow. One must endeavor to be a better version of their self today than they were yesterday. That being said, I’m wearing Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle pajama pants as I write this. And if anyone feels that is immature, then all I have to say is, “Cowabunga, dude!”
Copyright Riley Joyce 2014