No one glancing into our car can possibly imagine my grief. In a few hours, people at the funeral will hug me and say how sorry they are, but no one will ever know how it feels for this child to lose this mother. I am alone. My mother is dead. And life has dared to go on without me.
If someone could guarantee that I'll live to be a healthy, vigorous ninety, I'm not sure I'd have been so upset about turning fifty, but without that assurance I felt vulnerable and pressed for time. Suddenly, death seemed imminent and eminently possible.
"Fifty is halftime," said Joe Namath when his big birthday rolled around. I appreciate sports metaphors as much as the next guy, but this one won't make the cut. Few fifty-year-olds can expect to play two more full quarters of the game of life.
I used to anticipate my childhood birthday parties as if each were an annual coronation. Like most kids, I loved sitting at the head of the table with a crown on my head. In recent years, however, birthdays have been more like medical checkups--no fun at all but necessary if one intends to stay alive from year to year.
The Jewish day is delineated by a schedule of prayers; the Jewish year is freighted with time-bound obligations--six days to fast, eight days to eat unleavened bread on Passover, eight days to light candles on Hanukkah, seven weeks to "count the omer," enumerating the days between the Israelites' liberation from slavery in Egypt and the giving of the law on Mount Sinai. Counting is a way of noticing and anticipating: it reminds us that a day counts or it doesn't. Counting imputes meaning; we rarely count what we do not value.
The High Holy Days of my childhood . . . embodied the very essence of new beginnings; for autumn, not spring, was when everything was new: my clothes, my classroom, books, pencil box, teachers--and Jewish chronology, which decreed a fresh start, a clean slate, a chance to improve on the past.
I happen to feel an almost visceral connection to the cars of my youth, a passionate nostalgia for certain models that carry very personal meanings--automobile as autobiography, you might say. A road sighting of a 1948 Dodge with Fluid Drive gives me palpitations because I know the car, I know the dials on the dashboard and the smell of the upholstery and where I was in life the last time I rode in one. It's the car in which I learned to drive.
The class reunion, known as a splendid opportunity to check out how we're doing in comparison to our age peers, is less often acknowledged for its temporal impact--for being a stark reminder of time's relativity. Returning for a reunion, we hear the same chorus of bedeviled reactions "Can you believe it's been a quarter of a century?" "Where has the time gone!" "It seems like yesterday!" The decades since graduation have raced by like a jet stream, sucking us along and depositing us in the present before we realized what was happening. But the four years when we were in school were as leisurely as a stroll; they ambled, they meandered, they distinguished themselves one from
the other . . . as if each were a separate country, and we a different person every year.