Of Time, the River
Time and human development are liquid materials, flowing past our feet, a broad and shallow river of infinite width rolling over a primordial setting, the Nile or the Platte before they were quantified by human eyes. Children are born, and though they age and change, who they are is constant in the present. Their character is spread across infancy, toddlerhood and full childhood as if they are the same person, a fixed point, unfolding new facets with every stage, but unchanged in their essence. Often, I look at a picture of the girls from a year ago and find myself surprised to see the little one’s hair so much shorter, or the six year old in clothes I know stand no chance of fitting her today. But, at the same time, their faces seem so much the same, and I have trouble remembering how their characters once were different from the people they are now.
When babies become toddlers, that is a palpable and undeniable transition, even a bit traumatic. Gone are bottles, gone are diapers, and, after some trying nights and a lot of emergency-laundry-due-to-accidents, your children no longer require a traveling utility closet to leave the house. A border has been crossed, rudimentary humanity has been achieved, and it is once again feasible to patronize a select few restaurants. It is more difficult to trace specific stages and milestones. Birthdays, a lost tooth, an increase in height you cannot swear to, but know has occured. And thus, we grow.
But it is a river, and though it flows, and though the eye can witness its endless running, it also seems that the surface, while it glitters, does not change. Children share the same illusion, as they move through time. We know that their bodies are maturing and characters developing, but tracking their metamorphoses is attempting to follow a ripple of water’s fate as the Shenandoah and Potomac merge. Understood in abstract, observed to an extent, and impossible to wrap our arms around.
The river flows, and this is understood, for flowing defines a river, change defines a person and the process never ceases. From time to time, with a photograph or a journal entry, I try to pin a particular aspect, to preserve a moment of one of the girls, their look, their laughter, the finest quintessence of who they are, right then, knowing that it’s not quite who they never will ever be again. I succeed as much as anyone could exceed in a task so impossible—a little, not much, but more is kept than if I had not tried.
One lesson to be learned from this, the simplest one, is an acceptance of the nature of the river. Time cannot be stopped, life cannot be frozen, we must move on because we *are* moving on, in spite of our protestations. And while that’s a good lesson, yes, and a solid tower of truth, it’s not the conclusion to which I choose to hew. Accept, please do, it’s part of living in the river, but also remember: the beauties of the waters are lost on those who do not watch them. The girls are growing, changing, slipping away, but I am capturing this process in as many ways as I can. Perhaps some days they or their children will appreciate this, I don’t know. More important is that it will have been done, and their childhoods, those fleeting moments, will have been appreciated by more than themselves.
Will this make any difference in a cosmic sense? Will it chip away at any monolithic wrongs or bring the human race closer to enlightenment? Who can say? But the girls will know, even if they do not read my journals and look at my photographs, that I loved them with such an intensity that I made them the focus of my life. And that is all that matters.