I had one of those Billy Pilgrim moments this morning. You know what I mean, when suddenly you are no longer in the present. Pilgrim of course goes to the future and the past, which I can do as well, but not as clearly as the past. Now that I have more past than future, going backward is easier anyway.
Well, what happened was that I was on my way home from the gym. It was about 9 a.m. I was sweaty and tired, especially my legs because it was squat day. I laid off squats for a while but now am getting back to them. They were especially hard today because I do interval training on Thursday.
Interval training is alternating a fast walk with a hard run. Just started it this month as I read how good it is for aerobic conditioning. I gave up long running years ago when my ankles started laughing hard. But short sprints I can do. So I walk two minutes at 4.5 miles an hour, then spring for a minute between 6-7.5 miles an hour, for just under 30 minutes, 2.25 miles to be precise.
I did that Thursday and was still feeling it a bit when I got to the squats today (after 3.5 miles, walking to the gym and then on an elliptical trainer. I did my four sets after resting my legs while doing other resistance work on my back and abs. The sequence is simple, ten reps at 95, 145, 195 and five at 245. I could have done 7 or eight at the end but elected to be kind to my quads and hams.
After that I do another round on the elliptical, and so you can imagine that I was feeling a little pekid, speaking of legs, when I left the gym.
I tucked Thucydides into my left hand and started crossed the lawn and toward the parking lot of the Big Boy – which always smells of deep fat and you tell me why that’s always so appealing. I think it was my state of extra fatigue that did it, you see. That and seeing the mom and two youngsters on their way in as I was leaving.
The younger of the two little girls was crying, which made me turn my head. As I looked, I saw that universal reach a little kid extends to signify, ‘pick me up.’ Far from being a major drama, I did not wait to see if mom did it, but the image lingered as I walked away, thinking how nice it would be when I was tired to have someone pick me up.
Or course it can’t happen, and should not. But a wave of longing passed over me as I realized how often grown ups feel small and weak and young and how we long for mom or dad to hold us or carry us. I felt lonely.
That’s when I slipped into the past. With utter clarity I remembered a moment when I was perhaps only four or five, 1957, fifty years ago. We were coming home one summer evening, it was twilight so the sky was not yet dark but the sun had set. We were probably coming from a visit with extended family, probably in Baltimore (we lived in suburban DC) and probably my cousins. I say this because while I cannot remember that part with clarity, I had fallen asleep in the car. Visiting older relatives was never tiring. It was boring. But my cousins, four of them, were my age. We tore about and played until there was nothing left in us.
As the car came to rest at the house, I was still mostly asleep. All I remember is that I awoke in his arms as he was carrying me up the steps and into the house. It was so nice that I kept my eyes mostly closed as I rested my young head in the crook of his chest and left arm.
He went all the way, in the door and up the inside steps and placed me on my bed. But what stays with me is the physical memory of being held. I can picture his arm in the short sleeve shirt, the hair on the arm and feel it even now, that it tickled slightly against my cheek. I can see his face from below, the hint of beard at the end of the day, his large nose and flaring nostrils. My bare legs dangled over his right arm.
It was a cool night after a hot day. The sheets felt good against my sunburned face, as he lay me down upon them. There was a breeze coming in the window, perhaps drawn by the noisy attic exhaust fan we had.
And then it was 2007.
I felt surpassingly sad as this memory played over me, as my father has been dead now for eight years. The desire to be held, cradled, protected, and the impossibility of that welled up and clouded my eyes for a moment. You really can’t go home again, at least back home.
And then I was glad, glad to have this moment, and to be able have it again. Is it not better to be sad about a wonderful memory than not to have the memory at all? “Teach us to number our days,” says the psalmist. I am.