I’m struck with the passage of time. As I’ve written before, I think that the cruelest trick biology has played on us humans is that when we are young, time passes so slowly. We get a little wisdom and experience and time flies.
Except for a bum shoulder and an occasional arthritic twinge in the knees, I haven’t suffered the indignities of aging much. What I have experienced, I can accept. For instance, I stepped off a porch a couple of weeks ago and twisted a knee. I can’t help but think that 20 years ago, I could have walked that off. It’s kept me from work and in the short time I’ve had at home, I’ve layered on the fat—another sure sign of old age that, because of old age, will not fade quickly enough when I’m walking 12-15 miles a day again.
I get it. That’s aging. I sag in places I didn’t before. I have misshapen feet from years of work. My arms are that of an old man. My hands look like spotted alligator skin. Small patches of brown climb up toward my elbows. I don’t walk as fast as I did 20 years ago. My stamina isn’t what it used to be. I have to stretch before I can stretch.
I can’t complain. I’m in good shape for 58 years old. I walk for a living and do it pretty well. I’m not the fastest letter carrier in the office, but I get my route accomplished in decent time. The heat doesn’t bother me and I don’t suffer from cold hands and feet in the winter. If anything, being overheated in the sub-zero cold is a thing for me. I often take my breaks during these summer days with the windows open and without the air-conditioning on.
Many are the complaints I hear from my contemporaries, and I’d be a fool if I didn’t believe that one day the aches and pains that plague them will not come to pass for me. What bothers me more is the wistfulness in their voices when they talk about how young and vital they once were and that the ailments that irritate them now will one day be their undoing.
Frankly, I like aging right now. My body goes through interesting changes. I have to accept things I never thought of before. For instance, last summer, my son and I went on a long walk in the central Missouri woods. Being a walker by nature and doing it for a living, I had no problem with the hike over rough country and outwalked my 18-year-old. But when it came to sleeping on the ground, a thing I really like to do, getting into the tent was not a problem—bend over and gravity takes over—but trying to find my way up and out of the tent was the real problem.
So, slow and go. I always figure I can do what I put my mind to as long as I can break the processes down to chewable pieces. When it came to getting out of the tent, one thing at a time. Sit up. Kneel. Stretch a little. Come up slowly. Crab my way out of the tent. Stand up. Don’t look back.
That’s what kills me, though. It’s already been a year since we disappeared for three nights and three days into the Paddy Creek Wilderness. It seems like no time has passed at all. We built our fires, stared at the stars, swam in the river . . . Suddenly, I woke up this morning, a whole year vanished.
If I think about it, I can go back in memory and see that I lived a lot in the last year. My pedometer app tells me I walked something like seven million steps. I can remember incidents and accidents along the way. I recall the seasons, the gripings a certain manager weighed me down with, the changes as I went from route to route. Graduating from assistant to career carrier marked a milestone. The job, my office, my route, the way I do things have all changed some.
But the time, where did that go and why did it seem to pass so quickly while I was living it?
I just talked to my good friend Pat O’Kelley and breached the subject. He says that what I’m dealing with is the awareness of loss. I liked that. It put a word to what I feel, as in, “I’m losing time.”
It seems that just a few days ago, I was dead drunk on the floor of my apartment—and it’s been 31 years since I’ve had a drink. To me, my life is split into two distinct periods. I lived 27 years before I sobered up and, now, 31 years as a sober alcoholic. When I sobered up, I had the emotional acuity of a fifth grader. My whole process of sobriety has been about becoming a mature human being. There’s only one thing I regret about that. As I have become more mature, the processes of time’s passing have increased in velocity.
My children’s youths are well in the past, though I remember them like yesterday. Virginia and I were young and poor and struggling. But there was good in that adversity and it led us to where we are today. But I pine for those times. Not that I want to live them again or live them differently. I just want to remember more. I want to be able to run entire years and decades through my mind act by act, emotion by emotion. I want to feel them in my gut, in my heart.
But I lay down at night and what I don’t remember confronts me most of all. I have lost more than I’ve retained. That is, perhaps, normal. For the memoirist, however, those lost moments are stories untold. Again, I’ve been lucky. I have chronicled more than most people, put down in words what my mind has presented me. Sometimes, I have to revise those stories. People tell me, well, that’s not the way it was. Their accounts unearth more of what’s buried in my memory.
And I feel an urgency to put these memories on paper. I have good recall at the moment. But time will come, not far in the future, when recalling anything may become a chore. I don’t live in memory in that I feel no nostalgia for times past. As I said, I don’t want to live those times again. I do want to have them clear in my mind.
So, I’ve already answered my own inquiry. I have to live this moment as if it was the only one. I should be aware. If there’s anything that I’ve learned from the ongoing sense of loss is that I can only fix this time, lived time, in memory if I am completely present, aware. That’s the work ahead of me, I think.