October is passing quickly, just as it always does, with time frequently running in reverse, back to other days and years, people and places.
I am sitting in my favorite bagel shop. The piped-in music is self-consciously acoustic, featuring lots of faceless singer/songwriter pop, although as soon as I type that phrase, Tom Waits comes on. Outside, traffic hustles by on University Avenue, and leaves fall from the half-bare trees on Farley Street. People come and go, many toting laptops. Conversations bubble and wane around me. A few kids come down from the nearby high school for lunch, but it’s far enough that they can’t stay long. I am under no such restriction, and I linger awhile.
Now I’m driving home, taking a back way through a heavily wooded neighborhood. If I met an oncoming car on this narrow street, one of us would have to pull over to let the other one pass. The sunlight is golden as it sifts through the trees. I am tempted to park and watch it for a while. If I ever find a portal in time back to 1971, or 1976, it’s going to be lighted just this way.
I turn onto a busier street, where I pass a school, a building that puts me in mind of the one I attended when I was little. Classroom windows are adorned with paper jack-o-lanterns and oak leaves, and kids are on the playground outside. The breeze kicks up, leaves swirl around, and I wish for a moment that I could be one of those kids, just for the 15 minutes of afternoon recess, just to see how today feels to them, right now.
Empathy only goes so far. We can never know exactly how the lives of others feel to them, what some random sixth-grader is experiencing on the playground or what songs are playing in the head of a high-school kid with a backpack and a bagel. Did something happen to them on this day, or in this month, that they will carry with them 35 or 40 years from now, or will the day and the month, and the year, disappear like most of them do?
Live through enough Octobers and you’ll find yourself wanting to say to those kids: remember this. Hold onto it. It may seem to you like nothing is happening, but more is happening to you than you can possibly understand. You are going to miss these days of potential and possibility, especially the ones lighted like this day is, by autumn sun and leaves that twinkle like stars as they fall through it. You are going to miss not having to worry about the things you don’t have to worry about.
But while you’re busy remembering, be quick to forget, too. Things that seem important now, obsessions and slights and pain, won’t matter at all later, and sooner than you think.
Live through enough Octobers and you’ll discover something else: there are things that matter, not just from childhood but from all the days and years through which you pass—in 1971, 1976, 2012, whenever—that will matter more as the years go by. You will be surprised by—and you will cherish—what remains, despite the passing of days and years.
And on certain slow, sunny afternoons, you’ll get lost in all of it.
This is the greatest time of day
When all the clocks are spinning backwards
And all the ropes that bind begin to fray
And all the black and white turns into colors