Monday, July 14, 2008

Nothing Gold Can Stay

I should have known: The internet is everywhere. And like two crack addicts looking for a fix, Bill and I paid for a weekly subscription. We're pathetic.

I suppose it was the reference to C. Thomas Howell in Thursday's post that made it spring to my mind. After a 20-tear hiatus from my consciousness, the words moved front and center Friday morning.

Nature's first green is gold,
Her hardest hue to hold.
Her early leafs a flower;
But only so an hour.
Then leaf subsides to leaf.
So Eden sank to grief,
So dawn goes down to day.
Nothing gold can stay.

Like many kids in my generation I was introduced to Frost's poem not in American Literature class but in S.E. Hinton's book The Outsiders. It is the first book that I remember reading that had darker themes: the three brothers struggling to raise themselves after the death of their parents; the clash between the haves and the have-nots; and the harsh, cold reality that life simply is not fair. While I loved the book, I found it profoundly depressing. And when the movie version came out my freshman year of high school -- complete with a cast of handsome young rising stars -- I happily went to the theater armed with a package of Kleenex, ready for a good cry.

Once the poem was unleashed from the recesses of my brain, I could not stifle the internal recitation of this haunting verse. All day Friday and Saturday, the words kept coming to me during otherwise silent moments.

On Sunday Bill packed the car to the gills and we headed to Emerald Isle, off the coast of North Carolina. I kept thinking back to three years ago when I was strong enough to take the kids to the beach myself, without blinking an eye, and now I needed Bill to do almost everything to make the trip come to fruition. The drive was easy and the kids fell asleep in the backseat, allowing Bill and I to speak freely. My cough was mysteriously AWOL. At one point I popped the Dixie Chicks' Fly into the CD player and when Track 3, Closer to You, came on I sang a loud. It was just barely above a whisper, but it felt so good to sing in the car again; it's been so long.

After we settled in and had dinner, we headed to the beach for a late evening stroll. It was probably 1/4 mile at most from the house to the actual sand, but it was a lot for me. And I found the walk on dry sand exhausting. A strong ocean breeze made the night chilly and I hunkered down behind Bill to avoid the draft coming off the sea. Leaning my head against his shoulder, I watched the kids searching for shells.

A luminous three-quarter moon hung high in the clear sky and the sun lay low against the horizon somewhere across the bay. All around us, everything was cast in varying shades of blue-grey. Amelia looked like a grown girl except for the pink bucket swinging to and fro. Aidan, with his wild mop of unkempt hair, looked like a future surfer boy. It was a serenely beautiful moment. I lifted my head off Bill's shoulder and recited the poem, "Robert Frost, I think." After the words left my mouth I realized that I was experiencing a golden moment. In that span of time on the beach everything was perfect: the kids were happy and carefree, Bill and I were in each other's embrace, I could breathe well enough, the ocean lapped at the sand. I wanted it to last forever.

But the point is, golden moments don't last. That's why they are golden.

I remember holding Amelia when she was near her first birthday. I had been witnessing all her milestones, rushing from one to the next excitedly. That evening I gazed at her and realized that the vestiges of infancy were leaving her little face. "No, wait, what did you do with my baby?" I thought to myself, "I don't want you to grow up yet." Rocking her I tried to seal the memory of her in that moment so I could go back and visit it in the future. I was smarter with Aidan; I wanted him to take his time becoming a big boy. But like his sister, he grew up too quickly as well.

There were many times along the way when I wanted to freeze time. When a simple moment, like making cookies and singing along to Norah Jones or dancing all together in my bedroom, felt so exquisite that I wanted to stop time. But the passage of time is insatiable and unstoppable, the moments quickly float into and out of our lives, leaving a memory, a photograph, a journal entry, or a video behind. But the moment, the experience of it is gone, forever.

It is heartbreaking, no? I have been mulling the thought over all day today and I have decided that it isn't heartbreaking. Just as spring's gold gives way to verdent shades, gold returns in the flowers of spring and summer: daffodils, sunflowers, cannas and the like. The hue may vary but gold comes and goes. In autumn she returns again in the aspens and poplars. And even in the dead of winter stars burn bright on clear cold nights. Gold is a fickle mistress, she comes and goes sometimes predictably and other time unexpectedly.

I let the golden moment end, knowing there are more to come. There always are.

On Monday we sat together under our beach umbrellas and ate lunch. I eyed Aidan's jelly sandwich, "Have you ever considered putting peanut butter on it?" I asked. "You know I tried it, like 10 times, and liked it. And then randomly one day I didn't like it anymore." We giggled together. I loved his use of the word "randomly," spoken just life the offspring of a pseudo-statistician. We finished our lunches and everyone except me settled into a post-prandial coma. Everything was calm and still, belies were full, minds were at ease.

I busied myself with a surveillance project. Nearby a ghost crab was building a tunnel. Every few moments he would scurry out of hole. The cartoonish creature with its periscope eyes would rush about 18 inches, dump the sand off his claw and then scurry back to his hole. Carefully tapping around the hole with his claws, he would then drop almost instantaneously back into his hideout. He was a fascinating little fellow.

It was a golden day filled with golden moments.

I remember crying to the nun who led our school glee club at the end of my senior year. I didn't want high school to end; I had been so happy in the walls of that school and that period of my life. I remember her exact words to me, "If you stayed here you would stagnate." She promised me that many happy moments awaited me and, indeed, she spoke the truth. Tempted as we may be to freeze time, doing so would lead to self-deprivation. The only route to golden moments is to let each one slip away leaving our hands free to grab the next.

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