Gotta Keep Moving; The Puzzle I Am to Myself

The 747’s engines roar to life. I raise the window shade and peer out at the flatness of DFW International Airport. The plane throttles forward and lifts from the runway. I leave the ground. I leave home, museum of my childhood, repository of first memories, first loves, first losses, the place where tiny fragments of me dangle from tree limbs I once climbed as a boy or rest alongside beloved scaly pets I buried in the yard.

Sometimes I feel like I’m smeared across time and space, scattered among people I’ve known well or barely spoken to. I forget myself sometimes, then a person or an object from the past jogs my memory. They tell me who I was with a knowing look or a trivial comment: “Gotta keep moving,” says Jon from elementary school, referring to one afternoon seventeen years ago when we played H-O-R-S-E together in my driveway. He had to sink a fade-away jump shot or else incur an ‘R’. “Gotta keep moving,” I said to Jon that day as he turned toward the basket and sent the ball gliding through the hoop.

Now, with that one statement, Jon hands me a piece of the puzzle I am to myself, and I remember. I remember that we were once twelve, he and I, and I feel the zest and confusion of that age. I’m twelve again. I’m twelve and I’m twenty-nine and many ages besides. And for a moment, that somehow makes sense.

“Gotta keep moving.”

I think I was somewhat younger than twelve in this picture, but only somewhat.

*I’m stealing away to Puerto Rico Thursday.  I hope to come back with something mildly interesting to share. 🙂  It would be hard to top the random experiences I had in Costa Rica last March with a group of  Harvard MBAs I became attached to. 

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Moments Stolen From Time

My eyes welled up with tears as I watched my friends feed their son carrot purĂ©e for the first time in his life or theirs.  We were in their kitchen.  The baby, some six months old, sat in his high chair near the glass kitchen table.  Short blond hair curled about his head.  He gazed out at the world through blue eyes, and slobber dripped from his moistened lips.  His mother sat in a chair beside him while his father stood watching them both from three feet away.  The father grabbed the digital camera and snapped photos as the mother raised tiny spoonfuls of orange purĂ©e to their son’s mouth.  He licked his lips and frowned, then stared into space, lost in contemplation of this new texture, this new taste on his tongue that we call “carrot”, but that to him had never existed until that moment.  Mother and father alternated; one fed, one took pictures.  Both smiled.  Both laughed.  Eventually the baby smiled, too, though whether in reaction to the food or to his parents’ laugher, I didn’t know. 

I held back tears because I realized that I was watching a moment that is repeated thousands of times each day all over the world.  But here, in my friends’ kitchen, mother, father, and baby were experiencing it for the first time.  It didn’t matter that for millennia parents had fed their children and laughed with them.  For these two parents and for this family, it was all happening as if for the first time in history.

In my mind there flashed images of the times I had spent with my two good friends, chatting for hours in bars about subjects heavy and light, singing karaoke, and drinking our first margaritas together, days after we first met.  I remembered my friends as just a happy couple.  Now, before me, I saw the image of a happy family: a cute blond-haired kid and two parents who loved him as I may never love anyone, unless I have kids of my own.  And I saw their son ten, fifteen, twenty years in the future.  I saw him kicking soccer balls and chasing lizards, snatching spiders from sidewalks and thrusting them in the face of his terrified mother.  I saw him throwing a frisbee with the family Labrador, dressing up for prom, and driving off to college to find himself and his passions.  And I saw his parents accompanying him through it all, still laughing, sometimes scolding, always loving him. 

In that moment, while the father took pictures of his wife feeding their son tiny spoonfuls of carrot purée, I imagined both of them, some day in the distant future, flipping through a photo album—paper or digital, it doesn’t matter—and resting their eyes on the photos they took in the far-off past, when for the first time they fed their son puréed carrots.  And I imagined them tearing up the way I did when I saw them take those photos, when they stole from the clutches of time a moment I’ll always remember.    

Now, my friends have a new son, with thick brown hair and eyes that open as slits, perhaps pondering this new world of radiant light.  How is the baby to know whether he or the whole world itself was born just days ago?   A new story begins, with new photos and first moments to fill its pages.  I may never have kids, but I feel fortunate to have shared in these sacred moments and the happiness that flows out of them.