On a recent, perfect Sunday, I was sitting on a dock on the Chesapeake Bay, feet dangling in the water, when I heard this phrase despondently tumble out of a little kid’s mouth. In a quick flash of nostalgia, I was swept back to being that little kid at a family/friend’s gathering on a summer’s day or night, and having to hear those four words. Whether directly from Mom or Dad or sent by a messenger in the form of my brother, the phrase always held a little tinge of sadness, signaling the close of a great time. Of course there was always the standard backlash. “But no one else is leaving,” or, “I’m not even tired,” and my personal favorite “but we haven’t even had dessert yet!” The nerve of adults, sometimes.
See, because when you’re a kid, there is always something worth staying for — staying up for, staying out for. Leaving just doesn’t fit into the equation. At one young point in our lives, everything and everyone that we already have is all we could ever need.
I know that, personally, I never wanted to go, never wanted to grow up, never wanted to go to sleep. Granted, I was handed a wonderfully magical childhood. What is just as relevant though, is that I have always had a painfully acute sense of awareness that time is passing — that all of this is passing and one day it will be time to go. That no matter how enthralled in fascination or absorbed in a moment I am, the creeping absurdity of the world’s transient nature will still follow me everywhere. It’s hard to pinpoint exactly what this is and whether or not everyone shares it in the same way. I like to think of it as nostalgia for the present, the rare instances when we are the drivers of our memory rather than the passengers. The moments when we freeze in place and photo-stitch all of our immediate surroundings and senses into one, large panoramic vision of our existence. The collected snapshots of our souls, instantaneously antiqued.
It is during both extremes, the most poignant milestones in life and the subtle afternoons on the Chesapeake, that we antique ourselves, allowing those precious, brief moments of clarity to glide inside. Occasionally held within these brief moments is also the realization that it’s time to go. Sometimes the realization is a loud, crashing blow to the heart and sometimes it’s more of a tap on the shoulder, a gentle awakening.
We graduate from high school with eyes wide open for the future. Then, we graduate from college, teary-eyed and scared sh-tless of that same future. We move from our childhood homes and childhood cities. We move back and then away and then back again. We lose touch with friends we thought we never, ever would. Maybe we’ll reconnect with some. Maybe we won’t. We change fashions and trade jobs and slip into new hobbies. We break up and we divorce and we lose so many of the very, very important keepsakes that we’ve carried with us and treasured for so long. We watch the people that we love die.
We go and we let go and, sometimes, we are let go of.
Occasionally, we remain relatively rational about it all — the going, the leaving. Our bottom voice might have been making noise about it for a little while, and so our top voice finally speaks up. More often than not though, we are left feeling desolate, struck by the leftover remnants of transiency. We beg our parents, or someone, to stay a bit longer. We shout that we are not yet tired, that there is still something worth staying for. We become aware that a memory can be a very painful thing.
But we will invest in faith or forgetfulness in order to move forward. We will learn to live without the keepsakes that we never thought we could. We will accept that, yes, a memory can be a painful thing, but a dazzling thing — a wonderfully intricate thing, too. It is the most invaluable keepsake we have. So, we unfreeze. We gather our antiqued snap shots and place them one on top of the other, back into the drawers of our mind until the next tap on the shoulder, the next blow to the heart. Before we can help it, the lucidity fades. Everything begins to swirl together, again — chromatic aberration of the memory. And once again, it is time to go.