Tuesday, August 2, 2011

The Past As Present



Is there anyone by their 79th year not carrying a selective history with them in their invisible trunk? The past is the one thing we own not subject to bubbles or market volatility though past glories do have a way of spontaneously inflating. Some of my best memories might even be true……but I doubt it. Most are composites of photos, wishes and the actual with embellishments and key omissions.

If you doubt the presence of the past just look up at the night sky with long-dead stars flaming. Or listen to the canned laugh track of giggles and guffaws recorded sixty years ago of folks belly-laughing their way to life everlasting; as if we need a poke in the ribs to tell us something funny just happened. In that preserve of uproarious laughter, I think of Aunt Agatha tuning in to I Love Lucy re-runs listening for uncle Abner’s hee-haw in the mix.

More appropriate today might be canned-weeping when the far-right spokespersons of the Un-enlightment, who know less than nothing, open their mouths. I can imagine the gravesites of our founders in upheaval. What would statesmen like John Jay say or Henry Clay or even Whirl-away? Nay!

Modern technology seems to have brought us new claims on immortality. The dear-departed husband of a friend lives in her answering machine; a more reasonable memorial than cryogenics, I suppose.

I wonder if the weight of past years has a counterpart in the pull toward the future felt by a pregnant woman?; something I will never know. That unknown future and this hefty past both have a place in the vibrant now, that elusive present which slips through our grasp on its way to oblivion unless we can halt the butterfly as it flutters by.

And then we have the not-quite-here but not-quite-gone, like Dolly Parton who opened her ample mouth before 20,000 at the Hollywood Bowl and out came her voice from 25 years ago. After all she didn’t want to disappoint the gathered with her weary pipes. Nothing to fret over; merely the past having its way with us.

As a society we don’t do well with aging or maybe it has more to do with change. I remember how painful it was hearing Frank Sinatra when he lost it or watching Orson Welles double his weight when he was already larger than life at age 22.

My guess is that our generation of septuagenarians and octogenarians is having the hardest time in human history, staying current. In the eyes of pop culture we’ve long since been regarded as yesterday’s news. Maybe there is an art to aging; solving the equation between jettisoning old baggage and taking on some of the new fangled. Making room not only for new gadgetry but more importantly a willingness to catch the Zeitgeist; to not resist the accelerated pace and a readiness to greet unfamiliar forms. Eternal verities may be there in unrecognizable dress.

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