A few years ago I spent several hours at Stonehenge, England. Why had I taken so long to visit this spectacular World Heritage site?
To stand on this soil, to gaze and stare, to ponder the mystery and the majesty and to marvel at our distant ancestors. This was surely a moment of “going back”. Now as the month of May comes to a close we are moving into the last week of school for many. Students who have spent so much of the past year in distance learning have been able to gather before the summer dismissal. Yearbooks signed at the end of a most unusual school year yet one which will forever draw them back to remember. Thinking of remembering, we often choose to remember with inflated nostalgia. The good is exaggerated and the bad often forgotten or deeply buried. T.S. Eliot wrestles with time past, present and future in his poem The Four Quartets which opens with what sounds like a riddle and contains the lines Time past and time future/ What might have been and what has been/ Point to one end, which is always present. The full reading of this poem demands much time and energy on our part as we seek understanding. http://www.coldbacon.com/poems/fq.html
In contrast to Eliot, consider the poem below by Gregory Djanikian. He takes his family back to where he grew up and as he recalls his school days, his wife in the poem asks the important question “What about now,
the kids, our lives together, lunch, me?”
I put that question to you – What about now? How are you and Time getting along? We can only truly live in the Present. Yet present is shaped by both Past and Future! Enjoy the poem.
We have been cruising, half a block
at a time, my wife, my two children,
all morning, and I have been pointing out
unhurriedly and with some feeling
places of consequence, sacred places,
backyards, lush fields, garages, alleyways.
“There,” I say, “by this big cottonwood,
That’s where I dropped the fly ball, 1959.”
“And in 1961,” I say, “at this very corner,
Barry Sapolsky tripped me up with his gym bag.”
My son has fallen asleep, my daughter
has been nodding “yes” indiscriminately
for the last half hour, and my wife
has the frozen, wide-eyed look of the undead.
“Maybe lunch,” I say, though I’m making now
my fourth approach to Curtin Jr. High School,
yellow-bricked, large-windowed, gothic,
where Frank Marone preyed on our terror once
and Janice Lehman walked in beauty.
“Salute, everyone,” I say, “salute,”
bringing my hand up to my brow as we pass
the gilded entrance, “This is where things
of importance happened,” and I am pulling out
from under the car seat a photo album
of old school pictures, “Page 8,” I say,
“Fred Decker, John Carlson by the bike rack,
Mr. Burkett … ,” and driving on, following
the invisible map before my eyes.
Now we are drifting toward my boyhood house
and I am showing my wife trellised porches,
bike routes, more than she’d care to see;
“Why this longing?” she says, “What about now,
the kids, our lives together, lunch, me?”
I give her a kiss and turn right on Cherry
and there in front of our eyes, barely changed,
is the house where all my memories converge.
“Look at the windows of my room,” I say,
“see, there, the shadowy figure moving behind them?”
And before anyone can hope to answer,
I have grabbed my camera, I am snapping
pictures through the windshield, bricks,
dormers, railings, fences, streets, all
are falling thrall to my aim.
“We could be happy here,” I say, putting
another roll of film in and beginning
to nose my car toward Bill Corson’s house.
“Really, Daddy,” my daughter says; “No chance,”
my wife tacks on, but all I’m hearing
is the crack of bats in the neighborhood lot
and Danny’s pearl-handled cap gun going off
and the drone of bees around honeysuckle
and Dewey Waugh’s gravelly voice
urging on his mower, and the sound
of wind in the cottonwoods is like water,
I am coasting, there is time for everything.
I shall let Eliot though have the closing word – We shall not cease from exploration And the end of all our exploring Will be to arrive where we started And know the place for the first time.
Lord of all time,
past, present and future.
Before all things, You
Beyond all things, You
In the midst of all things, You.
I rejoice in what has been
I look forward to what might be
Please Lord enable me
to live fully in the present.
The past is fractured,
The future is uncertain
The present is fragile
Be my Guide,
Be my Inspiration
Be my very reason for living.
Send me into today
With energy, imagination and love.
Hear this my prayer and help me
to hear the Spirit stir.
Help me to live in the now. Amen.
One thought on “What about now?”
Although Eliot’s wrestling match with time resulted in an abundance of words, he provides a reason for nostalgia quite simply: Humankind cannot bear much reality. And I am reminded of The Lake Isle of Innisfree post and Yeats’ nostalgia, a quest to go where “he can ponder the deep heart’s core”. Then we have Djanikian who brings his family along on the nostalgic trip to his childhood as if the journey might bring the same affection he has with his past into their present. And as we see, it really didn’t work and he is left with the what about now question.
Isn’t it interesting that we often seek ways to make the Time go faster, or when we long for it to slow down, long for a different Time in our lives, desire more Time to do the things we love to do or wish certain things didn’t take so much Time? So perhaps we have no choice but to get along with Time and focus on living in the present. After all, as you say, it is really the only thing we can do.
I find the psychology of nostalgia quite an interesting topic, particularly the most recent research done during the pandemic. I enjoyed this post a lot. And I can relate to Djanikian!